Anti-violence forum just in time for spring break

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Spring break has arrived for Chicago Public Schools, which means it’s time to be vigilant about keeping youth safe.

“I don’t want to go to anymore funerals,” Debra Crump, principal of Frederick Douglass High School, said last week at a violence prevention forum.

That’s why her school hosted the workshop for community members and parents from Chicago’s West Side.

The challenge, she said, is finding positive environments for students when they’re on spring break. Speakers at last week’s forum agreed a joint effort is needed involving schools, police and parents to mitigate youth violence.

“We need everybody. The police cannot do it by themselves. The teachers cannot do it by themselves,” said Crump, addressing a group of about 20, most of them staff from Douglass and Francis Scott Key Elementary, located just across the street. Other West Side schools were invited, but few attended.

Chicago Public School Area 26 held its first violence prevention forum in 2009, said Crump. That gathering included principals and the police – but not parents, so this year they were invited, too.

Despite holding the event on the same day as report card pick up, which occurred down the hall  from the auditorium where the forum was held, few parents showed up.

“I think it’s up to the parents, and the parents need to be more involved to prevent kids from getting killed and just be more aware,” said Tiffany Gordon, a senior at Douglass who came with her mom and her freshman brother.

Tiffany said she feels comfortable going to Douglass, but she hasn’t always felt that way.

“As the years went by, the school has gotten better. The school changed, I changed, my grades changed,” she said.

March is infamous for being the most violent month of the school year, said Reggie Williams, CPS safety and security officer. This past March saw 20 fewer student shootings than in March 2010, he said. The reason: a collaboration of community and school programs that help students make better decisions, said Williams.

He pointed to a program at Simeon Career Academy, which has opened its auditorium on some nights to students who bring sleeping bags and camp out.

“The beauty of that is between 6 at night and 7 in the morning, none of those students are harmed,” said Williams.

Also at last week’s forum were representatives from churches that have planned activities youth can participate in during spring break.

Original Providence Baptist Church, 515 N. Pine Ave., will offer arts and crafts, among other activities, and an open gym. It’s a place where young people can be around positive role models in a positive environment, said Pastor Cleophus J. Lee.

Crump said in addition to community churches, Chicago Parks Department will offer special activities this week and next.

She stressed the importance of accounting for the children every part of the day.

“Don’t just drop your son or daughter off. Go in and have a conversation with the facilities manager, and see what’s happening. And if (he/she) gets out at a certain time, pick them up,” she said.

While the community prepares to help during the next couple of weeks, Crump said parents should prepare as well. She encouraged parents to register on Facebook and become “friends” with their children.

“If you can’t become a friend, then get one of your younger sisters, or brothers or uncles to be a friend of your son or daughter,” she said.

Cyber threats are making their way into neighborhoods and schools, she said. And her response to children who complain about privacy issues? “If I pay the bill, you don’t have any privacy.”

Williams asked the community to help play a role in making sure youth behave. He said if you see something out of order, call the Chicago Public School Student Safety Center at 773-553-3335.

“You know that term: Big Brother is watching you?” he said. “Big Brother is watching.”

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