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Safe Youth, Safe Schools

More than 55 million young people will return to school in the United States this fall. While schools remain relatively safe, any amount of violence is unacceptable. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators expect schools to be safe havens of learning. Acts of violence disrupt the learning process. Violence has a negative effect on students, the school itself, and even the broader community.

School violence is a subset of youth violence, a broader public health problem. Youth violence is the intentional use of physical force or power by a young person against another person, group, or community, with the youth’s behavior likely to cause physical or psychological harm.

Examples of violent behavior include:

  • Bullying
  • Fighting (e.g., punching, slapping, kicking)
  • Weapon use
  • Electronic aggression

School violence occurs:

  • On school property
  • On the way to or from school
  • During a school-sponsored event
  • On the way to or from a school-sponsored event

Sometimes things that happen during the school day result in later violence in the community. Preventing youth violence requires schools, families, and community members and organizations to work together.

Checking the Facts: School Violence in the United States

In a school survey on crime and safety conducted during the 2007-2008 school year, 75% of public schools recorded one or more incidents of violence. Incidents of violence included rape, attempted rape, sexual battery, threatened or actual physical attack or fight, and robbery.

In a 2009 nationwide survey of students in grades 9-12, one in five students reported having been bullied on school property at least once in the previous 12 months. Further, 11.1% of students reported having been in a physical fight, and 7.7% reported having been threatened with a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife, or club) on school property during that same time period.

In the 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey, students who reported any criminal victimization at school also reported they were the targets of traditional (62.2 percent) and electronic (11.6 percent) bullying (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2010319).

Lethal school-associated violence is a rarity. A study on school-associated violent deaths revealed that from 1992 to 2006, 116 students were killed while at or on the way to or from school or a school-sponsored event in 109 separate incidents - an average of 16.5 student homicides each year. School-associated violent deaths at schools account for less than one percent of the homicides and suicides among children ages 5-18. Nearly 50% of the homicide perpetrators in school-associated violent deaths gave some type of warning signal (e.g., a threat, a note) prior to the event.

Making the Grade: Preventing School Violence

The good news is that schools can make numerous efforts to improve the overall environment and to reduce violence. These include improved classroom management practices (such as posting clear expectations for behavior), promoting cooperative learning techniques, enhancing student monitoring and supervision, and reducing bullying by involving parents/caregivers.

In addition to the social environment of a school, the way a school is designed might reduce crime and improve safety. Features of the school environment that could influence safety include natural surveillance such as low or no bushes or shrubbery blocking the view from building windows; limiting access to the building through identified entrances and exits that are continually monitored; territoriality such as prominently displaying the school mascot or logo; physical maintenance such as making sure the building structure is sound; and order maintenance such as making sure all of the lights in the building are working.

Schools are influenced by the larger community, so broader efforts to change the physical and social environment of communities can also benefit schools. Strategies to change the broader community environment include increasing community participation; providing more formal and informal supervision for youth through afterschool programs and recreational opportunities; reducing youth access to alcohol and drugs; and improving financial, housing, and employment opportunities in impoverished areas.

The Federal Government addresses school violence in a number of ways - through research, dissemination of evidence-based program information, and grant programs like Safe Schools, Healthy Students.

Through its Division of Violence Prevention and Division of Adolescent and School Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works to understand school violence and to stop it from happening before it begins by collecting data on violent trends, identifying factors that put people at risk or protect them from violence, developing and testing prevention strategies and programs, and ensuring widespread use of strategies and programs that work.

CDC prevention resources:

» School Health Guidelines to Prevent Unintentional Injuries and Violence
School Health Guidelines are designed to prevent unintentional injuries and violence. Guidelines promote safety and teach students the skills needed to prevent injuries and violence. They are designed for all grade levels and provide support for a coordinated school health program.
» School Health Index (SHI)
SHI is a self-assessment and planning tool that enables schools to identify strengths and weaknesses of health and safety policies and programs; develop an action plan for improving student health and safety; and involve teachers, parents, students, and the community in improving school services.
» School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youth
Students who feel connected to school believe that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals. When students feel connected to school, they are less likely to engage in a variety of risk behaviors, including violence and gang involvement. Connected students are also more likely to have higher grades and test scores, have better school attendance, and stay in school longer. This document provides school administrators and teachers with strategies they can use to enhance school connectedness among students.
» Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE)
Helping youth, families, and communities be healthy and safe requires information. And that is where the STRYVE website comes in. With this online resource, watch real-people videos, learn from experts, and find resources that enable you and your community partners to plan, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive youth violence prevention effort. This information includes up-to-date bullying facts and statistics and bullying prevention guidance located in the Resources section of the website.
» Best Practices of Youth Violence Prevention: A Sourcebook for Community Action
This sourcebook looks at the effectiveness of four types of violence prevention strategies: parents and family-based; home visiting; social-cognitive; and mentoring. The sourcebook documents the science behind each best practice and offers a comprehensive directory of resources for more information about programs that have used these practices.