SCHOOL VIOLENCE: ANSWERS FROM THE INSIDE

DISCUSSION GUIDE

On PBS (Check local listings)
A half hour special from In the Mix, the award winning weekly PBS series

Loners, Floaters, Jocks, Preps, Goths, and Geeks. The names may vary, but the story is the same whether you live in a city, a suburb, or a small town. Social hierarchies, and conflicts between individuals and groups, are a bigger part of school life than ever before, at an increasing risk to teens’ safety and self-esteem. How can you prevent your school from becoming the next tragic news headline? In an effort to get "Answers From The Inside," In the Mix spends a day at Fox Lane, a diverse suburban high school that has a number of innovative programs that involve the entire school, such as peer mediation, conflict resolution, anger management, senior/freshman mentoring, and human relations groups. The programs are helping to make it a more supportive, tolerant and safe environment for everyone. It’s a school where security monitors and social workers who interact closely with students—not metal detectors-- have proven to be an effective early warning system. "Answers From The Inside," which is hosted by Kellie Martin of TV’s "ER," also features students who speak out on the impact of social "hierarchies" and cliques, and introduces several teens who have successfully risen above stereotypes without losing their individuality.

How to Use this Program:
Studies conducted by RMC Research on previous In the Mix specials have shown that these programs engage the interest of teenagers, deliver information, catalyze discussion on critical issues, as well as promote analytical thinking and a greater sense of self-efficacy among teens. The aim is to encourage thought and allow teens to generate their own creative solutions.

In this guide, we have outlined specific questions based on the program’s content, with answers. These questions can be used to open up more analytical discussion about related concepts. Also included are in-class activities and longer-term projects which are presented in bold type. We suggest showing the entire program to the group and then running individual segments followed by discussion.

Did you know?

 

In the Mix Awards

School Violence: Answers from the Inside contains four major sections, as well as a list of resources.

 

SECTION ONE
PEER RELATIONS GROUP

We meet the students of Fox Lane High School, as well as Assistant Principal Fran Lahey. We sit in on a Human Relations group discussion to see how students confront and break down stereotypes. These groups consist of 9th -12th graders, a trained peer facilitator and a teacher. They meet at least 4 times a year for a day that focuses on a specific issue.

Question:
The students at Fox Lane talk about the existence of "cliques" and social hierarchies in their school. How can cliques cause problems for teens?
(unified school events like dances don’t work because of vastly different music and style tastes; students feel they have to "get out of the way" of other students or don’t have the same rights as others—for example, being denied a space at the bathroom mirror; students like Juli who don’t fit into a particular group can end up feeling very lonely and alienated)

Further Discussion:
How does Fox Lane differ from the social setting at your school? How is it similar? Are there clearly drawn lines between cliques at your school? What are some of the cliques that everyone recognizes? (Note to leader: try to get students to speak as honestly as possible despite any reluctance to mention certain things in front of other people)

Further Discussion:
Kellie Martin reads a letter from a viewer who says…"There are many types of people in high school and some are outcasts because they are the typical geek or nerd. So many people are so insensitive about other people’s feelings. I keep a low profile, but I have a friend who is tortured nonstop because he doesn’t dress like everyone else or look like everyone else. High school is survival of the fittest and not too many can survive." Does this description relate to your school? In what ways are people insensitive? Do you think they are aware of what they do or say? How much influence does a group have in teasing or harassment?

Question:
Fox Lane students participate in Human Relations group discussions with other students who are randomly selected from all grades. What is the biggest advantage of meeting regularly with a group like this?
(everyone has the opportunity to communicate with people they might not know that well and otherwise would never talk to; by having the same people in each group, students get a chance to really become familiar with other members and possibly develop new relationships)

Further Discussion:
What are the advantages to being in a "clique", or a set group of friends? What are some disadvantages?

Question:
Athena admits she has a reputation for being a "ghetto thug". How does she feel about this reputation?
(she doesn’t like it or understand it; it keeps her from having friends; she hates that people are afraid to simply talk to her; she wants people to get to know her as a person)

Further Discussion:
A male student in the group explains why people are intimated by Athena’s and her friends’ attitudes, but Athena wants people to get to know her as a person and says she doesn’t try to make anyone afraid of them. Is it Athena’s fault that people stereotype her? Is it other people’s fault for assuming she’s like people on TV and music videos? Is it a little bit of both? What could Athena do to break down her "image" and make people more willing to get to know who she really is?

Question:
How do some of these students describe why they are stereotyped the way they’re stereotyped at school?
(Aliza is classified as a "wealthy brat" because of the girls she hangs out with; one girl regrets that people shut themselves off to her group of friends and will never see that she’s a good person; another girl faces pressure from other Dominican students because her drive to be the first in her family to graduate high school makes her seem like she’s "acting white.")

Question:
Adam talks about how he was stereotyped as a geek and teased because of his interest in computers. How did he react to this kind of treatment?
(he got angry, depressed; he would let people really get to him and affect the way he felt about himself; he would insult and be mean in return; he would withdraw, so he didn’t make any friends)

Question:
How did Adam learn to be comfortable with who he is?
(he realized that it didn’t matter what people called him or thought of him; he made an effort to meet people and realized that for the most part they’re really nice)

Further Discussion:
Ask students to give examples of how the media, especially TV, creates stereotypes about teens, such as "fat people are class clowns", "athletes are dumb or bullies.

Related Activity:
Pass out index cards to the class and ask students to anonymously write down the one thing they would like other students to know about them. Collect the cards and read them to the class, then discuss findings, for instance, if several students mentioned the same thing, etc.

Related Activity:
Ask students to create posters expressing ideas about cliques, stereotypes, teasing and insulting, etc. Display the posters at school.

 

SECTION TWO
PEER MEDIATION

School security monitors discuss their role in handling conflicts. Two students, Mark and Kofi, get into a fight in the cafeteria and we follow as they participate in Peer Mediation, which is led by fellow students Ben and Sarah.

Question:
What are some of the security monitors’ duties?
(they interact with the students all day long; they are aware if there was a problem outside of school; they encourage students to come to them with personal and academic issues if they’re not comfortable going to another faculty member; they refer more serious situations to school psychologists or counselors; they deal with impending conflicts between students)

Further Discussion:
What are the different resources available at your school for students who have personal or academic problems? For instance, school psychologists, guidance counselors, social workers? Who would you feel most comfortable discussing a problem with?

Question:
According to Ben and Sarah, what kinds of problems do Peer Mediators at Fox Lane most commonly deal with?
(boyfriend-girlfriend conflicts, conflicts between friends, physical confrontations between students)

Question:
What rules do Mark and Kofi have to follow in the Peer Mediation?
(they’re not allowed to get out of their seats; no cursing, raising their voices, or physical contact with each other; each person must have uninterrupted time to tell their side of the story; anything said in the mediation session is completely confidential)

Further Discussion:
How do you think these rules helped Mark and Kofi during the mediation? Why would each of these rules be important in this situation, or in any situation where two people are trying to resolve a conflict? (they create an atmosphere of respect)

Question:
Mark didn’t initially want to participate in the mediation, but ended up taking it very seriously. What did he get out of the experience?
(he learned that Kofi wasn’t a bad person; that the two of them were actually very similar in how their friends saw them; he realized that stopping two groups of people from fighting is better for the whole school; that becoming physically violent is only satisfying for a short time; that violent tendencies can last a lifetime if you don’t curb them early)

Question:
What skills have Ben and Sarah learned as a result of being peer mediators?
(listening; communicating better; being more tolerant of unfamiliar people; better conflict resolution skills in dealing with friends and family)

Further Discussion:
Do you think a Peer Mediation program is a realistic way for a school to handle problems between students? Would it work in your school? Why or why not?

Related Activity:
Practice mediation with the class by dividing them into groups of four: two to role-play a dispute, one to mediate objectively, and one to observe:

  1. The two in conflict act out their problem and then the mediator uses mediating techniques to bring them to a peaceful resolution.
  2. The observer leads a discussion about how well it went and how things might have worked out differently. Have them discuss their feelings about each stage, then switch roles.
  3. Have them suggest other confrontations to role play. Suggested disputes might include: One student has heard that another student has been spreading rumors about them through the school grapevine; A student confronts a friend after discovering that this friend has been secretly dating his/her ex-girlfriend/boyfriend.

 

SECTION THREE
CONFLICT RESOLUTION

A group of Fox Lane students participate in a conflict resolution and anger management class, led by school social worker Toni Nagel-Smith.

Question:
Based on the students’ comments, what are some common ways people deal with conflict in their lives?
(avoiding the problem; holding in your feelings until you blow up; ignoring people; confronting; complaining about people behind their backs; venting to someone else; expressing frustration physically, such as punching at a wall)

Question:
The students discuss anger management and how to cope with feelings of rage and frustration. How do they find a release for their anger?
(playing sports; listening to music; writing out their feelings; playing and writing music; talking to an objective person)

Further Discussion:
How do you handle being angry? Do you confront the issue? Do you hold in your feelings? What activities serve as a release when something or someone makes you mad?

Question:
The students practice "I" messages to help them reach resolution with another person. How are these "messages" an effective way to communicate?
(they help you be honest; they help you examine how you to feel and what you’re reacting to; they give you a foundation for expressing yourself when you don’t know what to say; they don’t make the other person defensive)

Related Activity:
Put the words "I feel", "when" and "because" on the blackboard as a visual cue to students. Starting with yourself, go around the class and ask each student to express an "I" message of their own, relating to a real problem in their life. If a student has trouble thinking of one, present a situation to them, such as a friend who has just cancelled plans with them to spend time with her boyfriend.

 

SECTION FOUR:
SOLUTIONS THAT LAST

Question:
What additional programs do Fox Lane students participate in that help them break down barriers between one another?
(older students are paired with freshmen as mentors to help them be more comfortable in the school and allow them to meet a wider variety of new people; a lip-sync contest brings people from diverse backgrounds together to perform and have a good time)

Further Discussion:
Is violence a problem at your school? Describe an incident you have seen or heard about. How could the violence have been avoided? Which of the Fox Lane programs might have been useful in preventing or resolving the incident?

Further Discussion:
Fox Lane also has a confidential and anonymous hotline that students or parents can call to alert school personnel to potential problems. Would this be effective at your school? Why or why not? What kind of problems should be reported?

Further Discussion:
What, if any, programs has your school implemented to help prevent violence? How effective do you think they are, and why? Can you think of any specific incidents that were affected by these programs?

Related Activity:
As a group, organize a school-wide event, such as Fox Lane’s lip-sync contest, that brings everyone together to have fun, expose unfamiliar students to one another, and celebrate the school’s diversity. Alternatively, you might divide the class into groups and ask each group to come up with an original idea for an activity or social that might be successful and present a plan for implementing it. Submit viable proposed events to school administrators.

Related Activity:
Kellie Martin asks viewers to "reach out…even little things can make a difference." Ask students to list on cards the kind of things they think would help promote tolerance and make people feel accepted (i.e. smiling and saying "Hi", speaking up when someone is being teased). Discuss and/or make a poster with the suggestions.

Question:
How has school life changed for Athena, Juli, Mark, and Adam?
(Athena feels that people know her for who she really is, not who they think she is; Mark feels that he is changing bad habits that could spell trouble for him in the future; Juli can be who she really wants to be and finds people accept her for it; Adam realized that making an effort instead of staying closed up really helps people to like you)

Further Discussion:
The students at Fox Lane hope to maximize the effect of the programs and apply what they learn to everyday life by acknowledging problems and taking action to solve them. Which of these programs do you think would work best in your school, and why? Which of these wouldn’t work at all? Why?

Related Activities:
Ask students to write out the following pledge and sign it, then create a book of these pledges or post in the school:

"We, the students at the (school district name), do pledge to keep our friends and our peers safe. By signing my name herein, I pledge to do all I can to prevent a terrifying act of violence from occurring at my school. I pledge that I care. I pledge that I will help my friends and my peers by not closing my eyes to violence. I pledge that if, at anytime, I feel the desire or need to harm myself or anyone else, I will seek out help. I further pledge that if a friend or peer speaks of or shows signs of wanting to harm him or herself or any other person or to commit any acts of harm or violence I will seek help from a counselor, administrator or teacher. I am a part of this society, and I refuse to close my eyes or to shed another preventable tear. I am not helpless, and I am not hopeless, and I sign my name to this pledge to do all I can to keep my friends, my peers and my school safe."

 

RESOURCES

The Fox Lane High School
Bedford Central School District
Route 172
Bedford, NY 10506
Phone: (914) 241-6085

 

Organizations

Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence
Institute of Behavioral Science
University of Colorado at Boulder
Phone: (303) 492-8465
www.colorado.edu/cspv

North Carolina Center for the Prevention of School Violence
Phone: (800) 299-6054
www.ncsu.edu/cpsv

Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Phone: (404) 815-5700
www.bgca.org

National Crime Prevention Council
Phone: (800) WE-PREVENT
www.weprevent.org

National Urban League
Stop the Violence Clearinghouse
Phone: (212) 558-5300
www.nul.org

YMCA of the U.S.A.
Phone: (800) 872-9622
www.ymca.net

YWCA of the U.S.A.
Phone: (212) 308-2899
www.ywca.org

National Peer Helpers Association
Phone: (252) 522-3959
www.peerhelpers.org

Center to Prevent Handgun Violence
Straight Talk About Risks (STAR)
Phone: (202) 289-7319
www.handguncontrol.org

Resolving Conflicts Creatively Program
(212) 509-0022
http://www.ncrel.org/ncrel/sdrs/areas/issues/envrnmnt/drugfree/sa2lk16.htm

Conflict Resolution Education Network at the National Institute for Dispute Resolution
Phone: (202) 466-4764
www.igc.org/igc/iss

 

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c 1999 In the Mix. School Violence: Answers From The Inside is a production of Castle Works Inc. In the Mix was created by WNYC Radio. This special was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.