The auditorium of Baltimore’s Renaissance Academy, usually filled with students and teachers in assembly format, became the forum for advocates, activists, supporters, parents, teachers, students and friends. It was there on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 that people united toward a common goal of solving the issue of school violence which plagues so many urban schools. This forum was hosted by the Baltimore Teacher Network (BTN), whose primary mission is to provide support to teachers.
The evening began with a welcome from, Matthew Wernsdorfer, board president of BTN, who also recognized the VIP’s throughout the audience. That list included politicians, school officials, activists, etc. He touted the achievements of BTN as well as the purposefor the forum–to listen, identify common threads or trends and possible solutions to the problem. He identified the format for the forum, a panel of ‘experts’ who would speak, firsthand, about school violence. The panel would speak first about their perspectives on school violence and or what should be done. Then the audience, a diverse group with regard to backgrounds, ethnic groups and ages, would be allowed to address the panel.
The panel, itself, represented a cross-section of stakeholders. Present were:
- Students Steven Anderson and Dominique Degaffinried
- School Police Chief Leonard Hamm
- Baltimore Police Department Lieutenant Colonel Melvin Russell
- Teachers Tracie Jiggetts and Jennifer Jones (both of whom had been victims of school violence)
- Author and Motivational Speaker Laquisha Hall
- Activist Derrick Chase
The forum was moderated by J. Richard Perkins.
Students Degaffinried and Anderson began by talking about the necessity to have police, or resource officers, present in the schools and the impact of those positive relationships upon the entire school environment. Lt. Col. Russell spoke of the collaborative programming between both police forces, which led to better relationships and trust between the city police and the community. Chief Hamm spoke of what officers do, their level of commitment as well as the need to change according to the needs of society. Teachers Jiggetts and Jones both recounted their accounts of having been victims of school violence, but still maintained their desires to help students to learn and grow. Hall spoke of her mentoring program for females at one of the high schools, but admitted that the services she provided were still not enough. Chase talked about his experience as a victim of school violence as well.
There were statistics thrown about as the audience was reminded that Baltimore had 344 murders last year and 22 children killed.
After each of the panelists had spoken, the microphones were tuned in to the audience members. The agents of change in the audience spoke of the following topics, which contributed to the issue of school violence:
- ongoing physical, verbal and emotional abuse of teachers by students
- the impact of drugs and alcohol on students
- changes to the Code of Conduct, leading to a lack of consequences for behaviors
- ineffective administrators
- lack of resources to address the problems
- issue of cell phones in school
- presence of gang/street mentality in schools
There were challenges presented and possible solutions provided by the change agents present throughout the audience. These included:
- putting resources in place
- increasing police presence in schools
- changing policies to fit needs
As one parent stated, “Don’t give lip service to the problem. Put money in place for resources. Then that will impact attendance, test scores and social behaviors.”
Danielle Marshall, Executive Director of Playworks, said she thought this forum was interesting and loved hearing from the educators and parents as they collaborate in trying to create a healthy environment. She said kids are not safe and secure in the entire community. Her organization, Playworks, works with children in conflict, teaching them to negotiate conflict and respond to it in healthier ways.
Gandhi taught that we should be the change we want to see in the world. The Baltimore Teacher Network is taking this to heart and task as the organization attempts to support teachers and work with the community as a whole to effect change.
The Baltimore Teacher Network is located at 2701 N. Charles Street, Suite 401 Baltimore, MD 21218. They can be contacted via phone at (410) 469-9902 or their website.