Chil­dren of vi­o­lence

Our view: All city schools need more re­sources to help trau­ma­tized stu­dents

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Far too many Bal­ti­more stu­dents come from neigh­bor­hoods wracked by daily vi­o­lence. When im­pres­sion­able young peo­ple witness dread­ful things hap­pen to fam­ily, friends and neighbors, it leaves a mark on the soul that can last a life­time. If they’re ever to get over that trauma emo­tion­ally and psy­cho­log­i­cally, they’re go­ing to need help.

That’s why last week fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials awarded a grant of more than $350,000 to Bal­ti­more’s Re­nais­sance Academy High School to help stu­dents and staff heal af­ter the stab­bing death of a stu­dent there last year. The money will fund ad­di­tional sup­port staff po­si­tions and men­tal health coun­selors for the school’s in­no­va­tive “Seeds of Prom­ise” men­tor­ing pro­gram aimed at help­ing young African-Amer­i­can males ne­go­ti­ate the treach­er­ous path to adult­hood.

It’s a pro­gram we’d like to see repli­cated in any num­ber of other Bal­ti­more schools. The psy­cho­log­i­cal toll of vi­o­lence is an is­sue con­fronting young peo­ple across the city, and it de­mands a city­wide re­sponse.

The Re­nais­sance Academy is par­tic­u­larly in need of sup­port, how­ever, be­cause the vi­o­lence there oc­curred in­side the pro­tected space of the class­room. Seven­teen-year-old Ana­nias Jol­ley was stabbed there a few days be­fore Thanks­giv­ing and died of his wounds a week later. A class­mate is charged in the killing. His death plunged the whole school into a pe­riod of mourn­ing from which it has yet to emerge. And as if that weren’t enough, in the sub­se­quent months, two more Re­nais­sance stu­dents, Dar­ius Bard­ney and Daniel Jack­son, also fell vic­tim to deadly vi­o­lence.

A sur­vey re­leased this year by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Mary­land School of So­cial Work shows just how com­mon vi­o­lence is in the lives of young peo­ple grow­ing up in Bal­ti­more’s grit­ti­est neigh­bor­hoods. More than two in five young­sters said they wit­nessed some form of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence at least once a week, and nearly 40 per­cent said they knew some­one who had been killed be­fore his or her 20th birth­day. A sim­i­lar mar­gin said they knew some­one with a gun and nearly 20 per­cent said they could eas­ily get a gun if they needed one to pro­tect them­selves.

These are young peo­ple liv­ing with high lev­els of stress who feel they must con­stantly be on the alert for threats to their health and safety. The anx­i­ety and bouts of de­pres­sion they en­dure are com­pa­ra­ble to those of vet­er­ans re­turn­ing from a war zone. In fact, re­searchers have found that nearly a third of chil­dren ex­posed to chronic vi­o­lence in their com­mu­ni­ties will de­velop some form of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

There are not nearly enough re­sources to reach all the young peo­ple who need help. The hope is that sup­port pro­grams like the one at Re­nais­sance can serve as a model.

City schools CEO Sonja San­telises is right to make boost­ing men­tal health ser­vices and trauma train­ing in schools a top pri­or­ity of her administration. If Bal­ti­more’s young peo­ple are to thrive, all schools must be­come havens where chil­dren feel pro­tected and se­cure. No child should have to feel as if he or she is con­stantly liv­ing in a war zone or en­dure the emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma such feel­ings en­gen­der.

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