January 16, 2009 by JSOnline — A “snitch” is one of the worst names you can be called in some circles. Where it should never apply as an insult is if you’re a student sharing information with Violence Free Zone advisers. This is less a case of betrayal than one of reducing violence in Milwaukee Public Schools. And it represents knowing the difference between right and wrong. These VFZ advisers – from the Latino Community Center and Running Rebels Community Organization – not only jump into the middle of confrontations to make schools safer, but they act as mentors and counselors. Even the school’s troublemakers have come to respect them.

A new study by Baylor University researchers of eight high schools using the zone approach for the last two years confirms that students and parents perceive classrooms to be safer. The eight high schools are Bay View, Bradley Tech, Custer, Marshall, Madison, North and South Divisions and Washington. Organizers for the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a Washington-based group, said MPS should consider expanding the program to the elementary and middle school levels. We agree.

But expansion will require an additional $300,000 by April. Raising this will be difficult, but the center says money raised here will be used here. They promise transparency. The Baylor study is not longitudinal, so it’s difficult to conclude cause and effect absolutely. But we agree that the evidence to date points to youth advisers having made a big impact in schools. In two years, schools with VFZ experienced a 32% decrease in violence, a 37% decrease in suspensions, a 3.28% increase in school-wide grade point average and a 3% decrease in truancy. It seems clear that VFZ advisers, viewed more as peers than school security by students, are slowing violence. The state, MPS and Milwaukee’s business community should investigate helping this program expand.

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