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3 Colorado Springs middle schools participating in violence prevention program

November 2, 2017 Updated: November 2, 2017 at 9:18 pm
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Sabin Middle School at 3605 N Carefree Cir, Colorado Springs, CO 80917 photographed Friday, August 1, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

The middle school where two 13-year-old boys compiled what police said was a "kill list" of students and staff they allegedly wanted to harm is participating in a violence prevention program led by the University of Colorado.

Three Colorado Springs School District 11 middle schools are among 46 on the Front Range involved in the "Safe Communities Safe Schools" initiative.

Sabin Middle School, which the 13-year-old suspects attended, along with Jenkins Middle School and Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy started the program this semester, said Cory Notestine, counseling services facilitator and crisis response team coordinator for D-11.

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the CU Boulder campus is leading the $6.2 million effort with funding from the National Institute of Justice.

The initiative began in 2015 and runs through 2019. Schools are selected to join at different times, said Beverly Kingston, center director and the grant's principal investigator.

Currently, 23 middle schools are involved, she said, adding that she cannot disclose which schools have been chosen.

The program expands the center's original Safe Communities Safe Schools, which launched in conjunction with the Colorado Attorney General's Office in 1999, after the Columbine High School shootings.

The goal: reduce youth violence and problem behavior and increase pro-social behavior in select Colorado schools.

Experts in the field know what works, Kingston said.

"This is about preventing some of the awful stuff that's happened in our state," she said. "We've learned so much from those incidents that this is the best stuff that we know from research to do."

Safe Communities Safe Schools uses a "comprehensive, coordinated public health approach," Kingston said.

"Researchers have known for a long time what needs to be in place to prevent problem behaviors, but it's hard to figure out how to make it all work, when schools are already burdened with a lot of other work."

The grant targets middle schools because early adolescence is a tough age and optimal for reinforcing violence prevention, Kingston said.

"It's a time of change and a critical developmental period when risk factors like your peer group start to matter more," she said, "and there's an association with delinquent peers being a risk factor for future violence."

In addition, protective factors - such as bonding with family - often decrease among teens.

The first phase - which is where the three Colorado Springs D-11 schools are - includes surveying students, staff and families to identify where things stand.

Survey participation is voluntary and anonymous, Kingston said.

Students are asked about bullying and violence at school, how students get along with each other and with staff, student use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, and other topics.

Information about school climate, attendance, discipline, bullying, violence, victimization and mental health issues also is compiled.

Existing programs are analyzed and retooled to be more effective. The center provides free training, technical support and curriculum plans, based on survey results and the direction the school wants to go.

Under the direction of center staff, a school team creates "a positive school climate that's supportive and strong," Kingston said.

"By doing that, we're helping kids and likely preventing some of the most troubled incidents," she said.

The team works to establish data-based decision-making, fair and consistent disciplinary practices and a schoolwide approach to addressing students' needs.

"We're excited to have schools participate to better understand how we can help support socio-emotional needs inside our school settings, so students have the skills that support their academic success," Notestine said.

The program injects social and emotional components into everyday school activities, to teach students how to recognize and manage emotions, develop positive and caring relationships, solve problems effectively, behave ethically and avoid negative behaviors.

School staff learn to recognize their reactions and emotions, and adopt stress reduction strategies.

Notestine said the program will enable D-11 schools to "explore with greater depth and identify beyond academics what students' need are and how we might be able to better support them."

The program has been so successful, Kingston said, that there is a school waiting list.

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