May 26, 2009 by JSOnline — The Milwaukee Violence Free Zone Initiative will honor 32 MPS high school students who have made dramatic improvements in behavior, academic performance or both at a dinner tonight at the War Memorial Center.

The dinner will mark the end of the fourth year of the project, which has expanded to include eight high schools. Four students from each of the schools will be honored, two for their improvement in academics and two for their improvement in behavior. The eight schools are Bay View, Bradley Tech, Custer, Madison, Marshall, North Divison, South Division, and Washington.

Many of the students had lengthy histories of discipline issues but have changed their records dramatically this year. As for academics, one student being honored went from a grade point average of 0.0 to 3.75 this year and the others have also made major gains.

Robert Woodson, president and founder of the Washington-based Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said Tuesday that data continue to show that violence is down and measures of behavior such as explusions and suspensions are improved in the schools involved in the effort.

Woodson’s organization created the model for the program, which is now in use in schools in seven cities around the country. He said Milwaukee is a model for the organization and people from around the country are looking at what is happening here.

The efforts in Milwaukee are built around the Latino Community Center and the Running Rebels Community Organization, which have employed and trained “youth advisors” to work in each school with high-risk students. The advisors come from much the same background as the students. They talk with students informally, help mediate disputes, monitor behavior in halls and cafeterias and mentor teens.

Foundations and philanthropists who have supported the Milwaukee effort include the Helen Bader Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Elizabeth Brinn Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Marshall & Ilsley Foundation, the Faye McBeath Foundation, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, the Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and David and Julia Uihlein. MPS also provides support.

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