Schools to focus on violence

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, December 30, 2010

For most teens, “BFF” means “Best Friends Forever.”

But for Suffolk high school students, it will also soon mean “Be Fight Free.”

Suffolk Public Schools, in conjunction with Suffolk’s Community Action Coalition, will kick off a month of violence prevention education and awareness in January.

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It begins with Be Fight Free rallies organized by students, coordinators and principals of three Suffolk schools.

Four to 10 student leaders selected from each of the high schools and Turlington Woods will be leading the peer-driven violence prevention campaign. Turlington Woods will hold its BFF rally on the morning of Jan. 7. Lakeland High School will hold two rallies on Jan. 13 to accommodate its large number of students, and King’s Fork will hold its rally on Jan. 14.

Nansemond River High School has opted instead to hold a monthlong campaign, during which student leaders will encourage their classmates to sign non-violence pledge cards. Nansemond River will hold events like “Hats Off to Save Schools,” during which students who signed a pledge card will be allowed to wear their hats in school.

Students at each school will also be able to participate in a video contest in which they will create public service announcements to be used on the school system’s website and distributed via a variety of media sources.

Students at each of the selected schools will continue planning events for the rallies and the Violence Prevention Month when they return to school from their winter vacation.

“We want students to take ownership for this,” said Bethanne Bradshaw, public information and community relations officer for Suffolk Public Schools. “We want them to latch on to violence prevention beginning with them.”

Bradshaw added the school system will continue promoting the non-violence message.

“The rally will just be the start,” she said. “We don’t want it to end in January. As more kids get involved, we want to see it grow.”

In a Dec. 9 decision, Suffolk’s School Board voted unanimously to support many of the initiatives presented by the recently formed Community Action Coalition, whose members hope to help reduce teen violence and improve the academic performance of athletes.

Education is far more complex than teaching content knowledge to students, Bradshaw explained. The school system strives to develop leaders, teach character and teach life skills in addition to teaching content.

As an example, Bradshaw referenced the Aug. 1 murder of Lakeland High School student TyQuan Lewis after a party.

“The death in August made us realize we had to do something,” Bradshaw said.

Partnering with the Community Action Coalition provides the school system with opportunities and support to teach students that there are peaceful solutions to conflict.

“Everyone knows what they are supposed to do,” Bradshaw said. “Respect their lives and the lives of others.”

In addition to the rallies and the Violence Prevention Month, Suffolk Public Schools, in conjunction with the Community Action Coalition, are developing a structured mentorship program that will link adults with students who need guidance.

“This can make a huge difference in the life of a child or teenager,” Bradshaw said. “It’s not rocket science. You’ve just got to care.”

Suffolk Public Schools hopes that through their partnership with the Community Action Coalition, the system and community will see a decline in the number of violent incidents, both in the schools and in the community.

“Kids will take more responsibility for their actions and remind their peers to be fight free,” Bradshaw said.