Preventing School Violence with Dialogue

Stephen Thom

CRS Mediator, Los Angeles Office

[Full Interview]

Do you have an example of setting up a mechanism that's still functioning when you're gone?

Well I think Inglewood is a good example because what CRS did there was to look at this school district which is predominantly African American and Latino. The superintendent was very concerned that as demographic changes were taking place in other cities like Compton and Lynnwood and so forth, there were these patterns of bickering that's taking place between the two large minority groups, and Inglewood was going to face those same kinds of confrontations if it didn't do something early in the process. He asked me to recommend something. I recommended that they get into Study Circles dialogues. That they bring people together to talk about race before anything happens. He instructed all his parent liaisons to conduct study circles dialogues, ten of them in each of their schools. That was the goal for the year. So the schools brought in parents in groups of 10 or 20 to participate in these racial dialogues, and they had to do 10 in the year. The District ended up having something like 300 to 500 people at the culmination event with experience in problem solving and completing school projects at each school.

All adults?

All adults, multi-racial. Filipino, Pacific Islander, Latino, African American, and some European American. It was just a variety of people coming together who had participated in these dialogues. What he did was he used the process and said, "I have a big challenge for all of us." Everybody wanted to know what it was. He said, "I'm going to ask you, and I know you're all problem solvers and you've all done the different things in your own school communities, but I'm wondering if you would support a bond issue to improve our school buildings?" That Study Circles group helped to pass the bond issue by 88%. I think it's the seventh highest rated school bond issue passed in the state.

That was because CRS and others got people talking and understanding and looking at school issues, but caring for students, not about the bickering between them. They collectively worked on the broader issues of the community, and the best for their children. So that's an example of doing something to really give the institution a mechanism. And they continued to do those Study Circles each year.

CRS helped to develop a collaborative that gave that school district a peer mediation capability, developed a curriculum and gave the District a community organization to work with to sustain ongoing training. To try to institutionalize all of this, the collaborative was awarded a grant to have the school assign two liaisons to what it calls peace project. We were able to do this because every school district in California was given money after Columbine. The governor released something like $100 million dollars to all the schools in California and it was based on the number of students you had from 8th to 12th grade. You had a formula. It was something like $44 dollars per student at that grade level. Englewood came into something like $240,000 dollars. The superintendent knew this was going to happen. He said, "Steve, I want you to develop a comprehensive conflict resolution program for me; I think money is coming down." This is right after Columbine. And I said, "Why do you think that?" He said, "Steve, white folks are getting hurt now." I didn't ever think about that, but sure enough the state came down with this money, we had $240,000 dollars and so I gave him a proposal of a program where we did peer mediation, peace builders, anger management, we instituted problem solving in every classroom, and we did Spirit at the high schools and we did community dialogues and we made that as a package program for this whole school district.