Finding 6

Educators and community groups build bridges among different groups of youth and create supportive school environments.

The Commission heard from educators about their efforts to build bridges in their schools. This includes a principal who conducted a "listening tour" as "the first thing" he did when he was appointed the principal of a multiracial school. "[R]eally reaching out to different community organizations, doing a lot of homework and trying to identify what are the key issues that need to be addressed."

Another high school teacher spoke about his personal efforts: "I gave a presentation last year about respect for LGBT people in which I came out myself to the students in the presentation and really encouraged everybody to take a more active role in making sure that our schools are safe places for people of all sexual orientations or gender identities. Whether it's due to my efforts or it's just a new crop of students... I think I've seen a great improvement in, as far as a reduction, in the amount of homophobic language that I see in my classes."

Witnesses told us about programs outside of the schools that bring young people together through music and other activities. One spoke about the efforts of South East Asians Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition [SEAMAAC]: "SEAMAAC was featured in the Philadelphia Weekly for a program that we run at Andrew Jackson School and it's a hip-hop, after-school program where we do a full array of deejaying, breakdancing, graffiti art, emceeing during the summer... [B]lack students, African immigrant students, Asian students, Latino students are playing, are having great relationships with one another, are breaking together, are deejaying together."

Several, however, also pointed out the inadequacy of funding for such programs as both private and public funding streams have diminished over the past five years.

The testimony from members of community groups confirmed that the dispute-resolution and social skills that students might learn in school can be used to better their own lives and improve the communities in which they live. Those skills become informal community resources. This was amply illustrated by the statement of a District parent and community outreach coordinator, "My son...got into verbal confrontations with a couple of the kids. It happened to be one of our neighbors... When the school called us in and started talking about what the situation was, I talked to one of the fathers, and we starting to get the fathers together and saying, 'Hey, you know what? We're in the neighborhood. This is a neighborhood school. We should be able to handle this. These are our kids. We know who they are.' And from that we sat down with our boys and really started talking about it to them...You will probably find less violence in those schools in the ones that really do reach out to the parents and allow them to kid of mediate some of their own issues... [L]earning how to mediate and learning how to role play where there are difficulties that is also part of the [education] process as well."

Another witness spoke of the need to build connections with the community before trouble begins: "We need access to the wealth of resources provided by community organizations from the beginning, not only after there's been an issue that a school needs help in cleaning up."