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Matching the Job to the Task

On Feb. 3, Michael Hernandez of Miami slit the throat of fellow 14-year-old Jamie Gough in a boys’ restroom at school. On March 17, 13-year-old Joe Rogers of Joyce, Wash., pulled out a family rifle during class and killed himself. Both events made the local news, but in this post-Columbine era, it takes more than a single young death to shake the tree of adult lethargy.

Less than 1 percent of all homicides or suicides among school-age children occur on or around school grounds or on the way to and from school. Particularly since the Columbine rampage that left 15 dead, school safety, in its various manifestations, has been a growth industry – while music, gym and school-sponsored extracurricular activities have been in steady decline, pushed aside with help from the No Child Left Behind Act.

But policing schools isn’t the only growth industry. One veteran national expert estimates a 100-fold increase in groups and consultants earning a living by promoting school safety and youth violence prevention. Twenty states have their own school safety shops, which peddle tips on target-hardening and school discipline.

The federal government is in on the act in a big way as well, with a half-dozen national contractors, such as the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at Duke University, producing curricula, videos, CDs, manuals and reports, most of uncertain utility. In the closely intertwined children’s mental health field, the federal government supports another squad of contractors, ranging from the Center for School Mental Health Assistance in Baltimore to the Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA.

Ever more schools are being turned into militarized zones, with zero tolerance policies, at enormous expense with no appreciable positive results. Most secondary schools have police as school resource officers on duty full time. The federal COPS program has paid for 5,000 police to be stationed in schools. While art teachers head for the endangered list, school resource officers are the adult weapon of choice to control and protect students. This approach is too expensive and too oppressive. In Miami, for example, a police office earns at least $36,000 per year.

In her extraordinarily well-researched new book, Rampage, Harvard Professor Katherine Newman argues persuasively that the boys (yes, they’re all boys) are attacking the school as an institution, often with no particular individuals targeted. Prevention rests – for better or worse – primarily in the purview of fellow students, especially girls, whose breaches of the adolescent code of silence have foiled 80 percent of known “close calls” with tragedy.

“In truth,” Newman writes, “very few school shootings have been ended by the police or by security guards, because they are generally over very quickly.”

Newman’s remedies for school violence essentially call for more of the same old tactics. But hiring more cops, or recruiting “young or ‘hip’ teachers,” as Newman suggests, misses the mark. Virtually all of these kids are marginalized, and most tell a peer about their lethal plans.

What is missing and is affordable are well-trained youth workers, operating on and off campus, who pay special attention to a communities’ alienated teenagers. Youth workers and tighter gun control – not police or a battalion of fly-by experts – are what teens say would do the most to keep children safe. Adults should listen.

Youth Today and Its Valued Readers

Every Youth Today subscriber was recently sent a questionnaire asking for an assessment of the newspaper’s value. The response rate for this type of survey is typically about 5 percent. The Youth Today response was excellent, with 12 percent of subscribers filling out the survey.

Overall, the guidance from our readers was encouraging. Most gratifying was that 97 percent of respondents said they would recommend Youth Today to a colleague in the youth field. A less impressive 78 percent rated Youth Today as having high value in their day-to-day work. About 84 percent rated Youth Today as one of the leading trade publications, but no other periodical or website among the dozens mentioned seemed to command much in the way of an overlapping readership.

We were pleased to learn that three out of four copies of Youth Today are read by two or more people. Extrapolating from the results, we estimate that each issue is at least scanned by about 100,000 staff members in youth-serving or policy-making positions.

What Youth Today’s readers want is even more coverage of youth program evaluations, positive stories on exceptional youth programs, useful research findings and funding opportunities.

Youth Today’s subscription base – vital to its survival – is tamped down by editorial shortcomings, its well-deserved reputation for biting the hand that feeds it, the real or perceived paucity of funds for subscriptions among community-based organizations and public agencies, the provider field’s low priority for staff knowledge development that’s not mandated, and the field’s on-the-job-training culture. Price is not a factor; only 6 percent of respondents rated Youth Today ($24.50 for 10 issues) as overpriced.

For Youth Today, soliciting for subscribers one at a time has always been a money-losing proposition. Fortunately, some umbrella youth-serving groups with leaders committed to building the field are subscribing in bulk for their constituencies. These include national organizations such as the National 4-H Council, Campfire U.S.A. and YouthBuild U.S.A. In addition, state and local groups – such as Chicago’s Alternative Schools Network, Rumford Group Homes in Maine, the California Indian Manpower Consortium, Mount Hope Housing in New York City and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana, Calif. – are ensuring that Youth Today reaches every work site within their agencies.

More than 100 respondents to the survey volunteered to participate in an online advisory committee that will help us cover specific topics of interest to the youth service field while strengthening our ability to give voice to the views of informed practitioners. Those interested in signing up for the committee may contact Editor Patrick Boyle at pboyle@youthtoday.org.

The complete survey results are available online at: www.youthtoday.org/youthtoday.