Violence prevention curricula are educational programs designed to reduce school-based violence. The basic right to education for youth can be jeopardized by violent and sometimes dangerous behavior that takes place in schools. In the last decade, school safety has become a high priority on educational, social, and political agendas because of the assumption that violence in schools undermines students’ potential for learning. There is growing public recognition and concern about the toll school violence is taking on students, teachers, and school administrators. To provide a safe and productive environment that fosters effective learning, school administrators are challenged to make schools safer from bullying and sexual harassment as well as school shootings and physical assaults. In response to these challenges, schools are adopting a range of programs intended to reduce violence. Perhaps the most difficult challenge in making schools safer is determining which school-based violence prevention programs are effective and how to implement these programs, while at the same time ensuring that regular classroom curricula expectations and standards are being met. This essay discusses several aspects of implementing violence prevention curricula, including challenges, key ingredients for effective programs, teacher training and development, key stakeholders, selection criteria, and future directions.
Challenges Facing Schools in Violence Prevention Initiatives
Teachers and administrators who are responsible for managing violence prevention and intervention efforts within schools are often caught between conflicting and competing demands. The vast majority of violence prevention programs within schools have been “add-on” programs where teachers are expected to include violence prevention activities on top of existing classroom curricula and expectations. Secondly, few prevention programs are properly evaluated, particularly with respect to long-term behavior change. In addition to the short duration of many violence prevention programs, many do not target specific risk factors, are not comprehensive or skill-based, and are not coordinated within broader community efforts. Funding to implement and deliver violence prevention programs is often limited and usually lasts only as long as the accompanying research evaluation or the continued dedication of a small number of staff. Finally, inadequate teacher training and staff development in violence prevention programs can be a significant obstacle in the process of building safe schools. An effective solution to the many challenges facing schools in implementing violence prevention programs is to integrate such initiatives within the existing school curriculum and utilize community and school supports.
Effective School-Based Violence Prevention Programming
Preventive, collaborative, instructional approaches whereby student engagement is high are key ingredients in reducing school violence. Safe school initiatives are difficult to sustain if they are not embedded in supports within the school system at all levels. Best practice principles have been established upon which violence prevention programs should be based. Programs should be integrated in the regular school curriculum and become part of the accepted school culture. Embedding programs within an already existing school curriculum ensures that program components can be developmentally appropriate for each grade level. Instructional content that is geared toward violence prevention, skill and relationship building, and developing coping skills as they relate to violence may reduce levels of violent behavior in schools. Students benefit from hands-on opportunities to practice violence prevention concepts, like role-plays, and receive appropriate feedback about their skills and strategies from a well-trained teacher.
Teacher Training and Staff Development
Buy in from teachers and staff members is a critical first step for implementing a violence prevention program into existing school curricula. Their commitment requires an expectation that teachers move beyond their traditional role as instructor within a classroom to become a member of a larger team that works collaboratively with students, administrators, parents, and community partners in establishing safe schools. The time and resources invested in high-quality teacher training and staff development in delivering violence prevention programs within the classroom is of paramount importance. Teachers should be trained on a variety of teaching methods and strategies that promote skills and cooperative learning. Moreover, teachers must be prepared to deal with any disclosures, follow-up questions, or anxiety that students may experience as a result of participating in the program.
Students, parents, and community agencies are all key stakeholders in building safe schools. Parents as well as community members and agencies often want to be engaged in the implementation of violence prevention and curriculum-based programs. However, opportunities must be created for their involvement. Schools can tap into existing community agencies and resources to assist with curriculum development and delivery, and input from parents needs to be welcomed and encouraged. Students can provide meaningful input on school safety issues and play an active role in establishing youth-driven safe school initiatives and committees. School leaders can actively engage students in planning, implementing, and evaluating violence prevention initiatives.
Selecting Appropriate Violence Prevention Curricula
Some communities have been successful in reducing school violence through an integrated, comprehensive approach that involves everyone—schools, students, parents, and community organizations. A safe school is the result of many things: a good understanding of the school’s culture, careful planning, supportive parents and community partners, a caring and well-trained staff, and last but not least, a student body that feels connected and valued. It is important that violence prevention curricula and programming reflect the culture and overall direction of each community, including the unique challenges and resources available. Selecting an appropriate violence prevention curriculum involves many factors. The stage-based school change model is a helpful assessment that categorizes schools into different levels of readiness to take action toward reducing violence in schools. As well, violence prevention curricula should be designed with close adherence to state or provincial standards and objectives so that it can be easily integrated into the current curriculum. Finally, universal implementation and a whole-school approach that addresses the school climate in which violent behavior may occur is an important shift away from programs that focus primarily on altering selected attributes of an individual.
In spite of public pressure to make violence reduction a top priority in all schools, there are difficulties and challenges with developing, implementing, and sustaining school-based violence prevention programs. Many of these challenges are related to the add-on nature of programs, limited resources and funding necessary to sustain such programs, and a lack of a collaborative effort from all stakeholders (students, parents, and community agencies) involved in the process of building safer schools. Programs that are integrated into the school curricula and that approach violence prevention by emphasizing the skills and awareness needed to make healthy relationship choices are an innovative and necessary shift in school-based violence prevention programming. Changes in school policies and the way schools deal with violent incidents may also be a necessary component to improve safety within schools.
- Jaffe, P. G., Wolfe, D. A., Crooks, C. V., Hughes, R., & Baker, L. (2004). The fourth R: Developing healthy relationships through school-based interventions. In P. G. Jaffe, L. Baker, & A. J. Cunningham (Eds.), Protecting children from domestic violence (pp. 200–218). New York: Guilford Press.
- Wolfe, D. A., Jaffe, P., & Crooks, C. (2006). Adolescent risk behaviors: Why teens experiment and strategies to keep them safe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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