Students turn their backs on violence

By ERIC STEVICK

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Many View Ridge Elementary students wore their shirts, and in some cases pants, backward at school Wednesday.

It was neither a rebellious act nor a new style. Rather, it was part of an anti-violence campaign.

The Everett School District has 16 SAVE chapters, an acronym for Students Against Violence Everywhere, more than any other community in the nation. In fact, the Everett district will be used as a model on a national scale, said Jenny Wieland, SAVE director.

Wednesday was Turn Your Back on Violence Day, which ended with a concert by Curtis Coleman, an interactive folk performer who sings "songs of safety" across the country.

Much of the discussion Wednesday focused on letting young people take responsibility through adult encouragement, rather than having adults tell them what to do.

"Sometimes kids don’t really listen to adults, but they will listen to other students," Wieland said.

As the students headed home, adults gathered in the school library to compare notes about what strategies they believe are working to help promote child safety and reduce school violence.

Teachers, a police officer, the Everett School District’s health curriculum director and others exchanged observations about school safety, a subject that often gets little attention until something goes wrong.

The View Ridge SAVE chapter includes 34 students, many of whom aren’t natural peer leaders in their classrooms, said Rachel Gaffney, the school’s physical education teacher and SAVE adviser.

"These 34 kids, they are just loving it," she said.

"We need to listen to their ideas," Wieland said. "SAVE has given them an opportunity" to express those ideas.

SAVE chapters emphasize conflict resolution, anger management, empathy, respect for others and refusal skills.

Students have a much better idea of how classmates are feeling than adults do, and they need to be "empowered to break the code of silence" and report when their peers "are reaching that pressure-cooking point," Wieland said.

The advocates also said schools need to bring together parents and the community into the effort to help students make healthy lifelong choices.

Feeling safe is key, Wieland said.

"In order to reach today’s high academic standards, children have to feel safe," she said.

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