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Northwestern Hosts Gang Safety Forum

School Board Member Amber Waller hosted a forum to help educate students and parents on gangs and youth violence.

About 100 parents, teachers, school administrators and students showed up to Northwestern High School Tuesday evening to participate in a community call for action.

Prince George's County School Board Member Amber Waller (Dist. 3) hosted a forum on gang and youth violence awareness and education.

“We have an unprecedented amount of violence in the county,” Waller said, noting that the homicide count in the county had grown as of Tuesday morning.

The forum, she hopes, will help parents learn how take care and educate their children about gangs.  It included speakers from all over the school system including student school board member Jonathan Harris.

Harris said the reason why students go to gangs is because they don’t feel safe.

“Gangs provide a safety net and they watch out for each other,” he said.

Simultaneously, students don’t feel safe in school with gangs and they may start to skip school or class. Yet, Harris said, school resources officers are fantastic and try to create relationships with the students, even giving out their cell phone numbers.

Dianne Powell, director of student services for the county’s public schools, said the Centers for Disease Control has identified violence among youth a public safety concern.

Powell said beyond bullying, fighting and harassment, there is now electronic aggression.

She also noted that boys and girls bully differently.

However, students can report bullying with the help of a form on the county’s schools website.

Although, Powell and others discussed ways for students to report bullying and parents to help keep their children out of gangs, student and parent speakers still had concerns.

Sigourney Okpara, a senior at Northwestern High, said students are given too many chances and in some cases they have records and are still allowed to come to school.

Okpara said students with behavioral issues distract her from her work and school day and should go elsewhere.

Jordan Ogbonna said students sometimes are worried about being labeled as a snitch and when they do go to adults they feel like nothing happens.

Richard Jackson, principal at Nicholas Orem Middle, said there are privacy issues, so administrators cannot share information about one student with another.

Cpl. Mike Rudinski, of the Hyattsville Police Department, is Northwestern's school resource officer. Rudinski said that the No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to keep students in class, which means some students who don’t want to be in school end up staying the day.

Rebecca Roberts, a teacher at Northwestern, said she is concerned about the school's ability to reach the parents. Roberts said schools have lost important staff like bi-lingual parent liasons.

Deputy Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter said there have been some fiscal constraints.

Waller said she hopes to have more forums in the future and throughout the county.

buryimberma March 18, 2011 at 04:07 PM
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