Other cities taking steps to deal with violent behavior

Around the country, schools are trying to find effective ways to deal with violence among young students.

The 47,000-student Cleveland Metropolitan School District almost two years ago instituted a social and emotional learning curriculum in kindergarten through fifth grade. Teachers three times a week instruct students in how to understand their emotions and control their behavior, said Angela Buford Payne, a district spokeswoman.

"It teaches them that when something happens that upsets you, stop, think, and calm down and come up with a plan," she said.

The curriculum includes a process called "turtling" in which students are taught to cross their arms over their body and envision themselves withdrawing into a shell when they encounter a threat. They are instructed to stop, breathe, and state the problem.

At the end of last school year, 86 percent of teachers said in a survey that classroom behavior and overall environment improved as a result of the program.

The curriculum was part of a larger plan by the district to address the social and emotional needs of its students. It was prompted by a 2007 shooting at a district high school in which a student killed himself and wounded two others.

The district hired the American Institute of Research to assess it and develop a systemic plan.

The Houston Independent School District since 1995 has run alternative schools for elementary students as young as 6. Their offenses range from bringing a weapon to school to sexual assault and bullying, said Michael Bledsoe, principal of the North Alternative School. Most are referred for chronic disruption and disrespect, he said.

Children get a 15-day intensive behavior intervention program and then can return to their schools if they are deemed ready, he said. Students can remain in the program as long as 90 days.

"We work on their social skills and character education," he said.

Few children return to the program; most find success back in their home schools, he said. Last year, nine of 80 came back. The year before, only three of 100 were re-enrolled.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com