March 23, 2010 by JSOnline — Teams of young-adult mentors in eight Milwaukee high schools are helping students curb their involvement in violence through a program that’s become a national model for making urban schools safer, the leader of a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday.

Bob Woodson, the architect of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise in Washington and its Violence-Free Zone initiative, which has been implemented at 30 other schools around the country, said a new round of data shows that schools with the program in Milwaukee are continuing to see a reduction in violent incidents, student suspensions and disruptive behavior both inside and outside the buildings.

“Milwaukee is unique in that it has such broad-based (public, nonprofit and private) support for this program,” Woodson said. “It’s a prototype for what can be used throughout this nation.”

The Violence-Free Zone program hinges on hiring teams of young graduates who serve as full-time mentors to students during school, after school and any other time via cell phone. The youth advisers, between the ages of 19 and 30, are trained to counsel, provide mediation and give other support to bring the most troublesome or at-risk kids back on track, and to help them model good behavior for others.

On Tuesday at Custer High School, one of the researchers from Baylor University who has been tracking results of the Violence-Free Zone at districts around the country updated the details of a Milwaukee case study from January 2009.

The update includes the full year results of the 2008-2009 school year.

• From 2006-’07 to 2008-’09, violent incidents reported at seven of the eight schools with the VFZ program decreased 11%. Vincent High School just joined the program and did not yet have data available. In MPS high schools without the VFZ program during the same period, violent incidents increased 15%.

• The total number of suspensions reported at VFZ schools dropped 29.6% from 2007-’08 to 2008-’09, while the total number of suspensions reported in all other MPS schools decreased 9% during that same period.

• Auto thefts within 1,000 feet of schools with the VFZ program decreased by an average of 25% between 2006-’07 and 2007-’08. Citywide, auto thefts during this period decreased by 6%.

William Wubbenhorst, a nonresident fellow at Baylor’s Program on Prosocial Behavior and Institute for Studies of Religion who presented the new findings, said the early results of the Milwaukee case studies indicate something is working.

The Violence-Free Zone initiative started as a privately funded pilot project at South Division High School in 2005. Ten funders have stepped up since then to help support the expansion of the Violence-Free Zone to other Milwaukee high schools.

Two nonprofit organizations – the Latino Community Center and Running Rebels Community Organization – recruit, train and monitor the youth advisers in the schools.

The program costs about $300,000 per year, per participating school, according to the program.

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