Recent School Violence Prompts Focus on Prevention, Intervention

A gun found at one school and a gun fired -- wounding two students -- at another, has local leaders and students discussing whether more can be done to prevent similar violent incidents from occurring in Philadelphia schools.

Students at local schools reacted to the incidents, many of them saying there just aren't enough security measures or counseling resources in place for students attending schools in Philadelphia.

"I think we should be able to talk out our feelings instead of letting it build up. I think that's why there's so much gun violence because they have no outlet to say how they feel or nobody to talk to," Central High School senior Bobbi Pough said.

Police say last Friday, accused gunman Raisheem Rochwell purchased a black handgun from former Delaware Valley Charter School student Donte Walker, who made his way into the school's building on Friday afternoon, bypassing a security check as a guest. Rochwell allegedly bought the gun because he feared being a target of an assault after school. The gun went off in the school gym, hitting a 17-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl.

In a separate incident last week, students attending the Knowledge is Power Program's DuBois Collegiate Academy (KIPP) in the Parkside section of the city reportedly alerted school officials that one of their classmates had a gun in his bookbag. Police were later notified and took the teen into custody.

Some students, like Pough, say they've turned to community organizations for support. Pough says most of what she knows about conflict resolution she learned from her counselors at local community organization Bringing Everybody Together (Bet), a program she's been participating in for three years.

"All of the programs at Bet, like Perfect Gentlemen and Lady Bet, teach us to be positive and how to react positively in those kinds of situations,” Pough said.

Bet's founder, Richard Washington, said one of the organization's goals is to provide students with an 'extended family' of counselors and mentors that they can talk to in their time of need.

"Once children become a part of the program, they become a part of our extended family, where the kids may not necessarily talk to their parents, but they’ll talk to us because we make sure they know they definitely have someone they can go to," Washington said.

"Even with our youth council we take it a step further to give them additional training, and have them talk about violence in the city, and ask the kids to think about ways they can prevent violence."

Students also hinted at a desire for tougher security at schools, some even suggesting they'd welcome metal detectors being installed in the city's elementary schools.

"I think something like that could happen at our school because they have no metal detectors or nothing," Roosevelt Middle School 8th-grader Corey Gaskin said.

"It’s shocking and terrible, that all this is happening. I’m surprised it’s happening in schools," Roosevelt Middle School 7th-grader Shamor Findley said. "Sometimes, they don’t have metal detectors and people don’t check us when we come in, so anybody could just walk in. I’d feel safer if we had them.”

The Philadelphia School District voted to install metal detectors in all of its high schools back in 1999. Discussions over whether metal detectors should be placed in K-8 schools in the city have stalled, largely due to arguments that their presence still may not prevent people from getting guns into schools.

That argument could be supported by Friday's shooting, as someone was still able to get a gun into the Delaware Valley School even though the school had metal detectors in place.

Over the weekend, City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson launched the Neighborhood Task Force on Gun Violence and held a meeting with community leaders to discuss a new strategy called Focused Deterrence that would provide support for young people who are identified as shooters, as well as young shooting victims.

"The tragic incidents of school shootings and gun violence only stand to amplify the need for our communities to band together to address this catastrophic issue. Shootings involving young people in environments where they are supposed to be safe should be a major concern to all Philadelphians, and we need to act to make sure incidents like this don't happen again," Johnson said.

"The schools and the communities need to do a better job working together to address this comprehensively, and whether it's a public, private or charter school they need to develop a crisis intervention plan to proactively address the issues that are leading to the gun violence."

The task force will include leaders from several local organizations including Mothers in Charge, Unity in the Community, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Philadelphia R.I.S.E. and others. The group will hold meetings in neighborhoods throughout the city to discuss ways to address gun violence in communities and schools.

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