Chicago school pro­gram fo­cuses on stu­dents most likely to get shot

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Su­san Saulny

CHICAGO — The bond­ing moment be­tween Veronica Ti­na­jero and the stu­dent she calls Big Sun­shine came in one of their first meet­ings.

“Have you ever been shot?” asked the stu­dent, a high school se­nior.

When Ti­na­jero replied no, he looked gen­uinely amazed and said, “Wow, al­most ev­ery­body I know’s been shot.”

Later, he ticked off a list of his own bul­let wounds: up­per thigh, left hand, scalp.

“I should have been dead al­ready,” he said.

With that, Ti­na­jero, 24 and a pub­lic school em­ployee, gained a fuller un­der­stand­ing of what she was up against. She is in Big Sun­shine’s life for two rea­sons: to help keep him alive and on track to grad­u­a­tion, and now col­lege.

She is part of an am­bi­tious project born of cri­sis, a project that may take on added sig­nif­i­cance af­ter a Supreme Court rul­ing Mon­day that ap­peared to doom Chicago’s ban on hand­guns.

Last school year, 258 pub­lic school stu­dents were shot in Chicago, 32 fa­tally, on their way to or from school, trav­el­ing through gang-in­fested ter­ri­tory and drug wars on the South and West sides. In an ef­fort to get ahead of the next killings, the schools con­ducted an anal­y­sis to iden­tify the 250 stu­dents most at risk of be­ing shot (by study­ing pro­files of 500 re­cent vic­tims). Since De­cem­ber, each of those stu­dents has had an ad­vo­cate like Ti­na­jero on call to of­fer care­tak­ing and sup­port 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Stu­dents in the high-risk cat­e­gory — mostly black and His­panic boys, some home­less dropouts and some for­merly gang-af­fil­i­ated — are also given jobs. The ar­ray of in­ter­ven­tions is fi­nanced by fed­eral stim­u­lus grants through 2012, part of a $60 mil­lion safety plan de­vel­oped by Ron Hu­ber­man, the schools chief who was ap­pointed last year by Mayor Richard Da­ley with a man­date to im­prove safety. There are 409,000 stu­dents in Chicago’s 675 pub­lic schools.

The 60 ad­vo­cates hired so far func­tion like a high­en­ergy amal­gam of par­ent, tu­tor, friend and life coach, some­times tack­ling sim­ple as­sign­ments like home­work. But of­ten they delve into the heart-wrench­ing de­tails of stu­dents’ lives. More than one has sat bed­side in a hos­pi­tal emer­gency room af­ter bul­lets tore through a charge’s body.

Of the 210 young peo­ple reached so far, about half weren’t in school. Now all are en­rolled. Al­though three stu­dents with ad­vo­cates were shot in the school year that ended June 18, there were no deaths.

Sys­temwide, 218 stu­dents were shot this school year, 40 fewer than last year, and 27 of the shoot­ings were fa­tal.

Com­pared with a year ago, this is suc­cess. Of­fi­cials were so en­cour­aged by the re­sults that the pro­gram will be ex­panded next year to in­clude 1,500 stu­dents.

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