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A School's Turnaround Offers Lessons

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

A school district in Richmond, VA says a novel approach to school violence has yielded dramatic results.

17-year old Keion Daniel remembers how his high school years began in Richmond.

"It was crazy. We had a drive-by my freshman year," Daniel says.

Gangs ran amok. Fights, drugs and truancy were a part of daily life for thousands of students, including Daniel, who was suspended 13 times. But not anymore.

"It's been a big change, I'll tell you that," he says.

The change has been dramatic and school-wide. Truancy dropped from 60% to 19%.

How did this happen?

A very special type of mentoring.

"We're using young adults, maybe five or six years older than the young people, who were drug dealers, who were gang members, who were troubled kids," says Robert Woodson.

He helped develop what's called the Violence Free Zone program. It doesn't use social workers who work nine-to-five or drop in just once a week. These mentors are available around the clock, they socialize with the students, relate to them, and gain their trust.

David McCoy is Assistant Police Chief for Richmond he says his truancy officers used to haul kids back to school in droves, but the roots of the problem went unaddressed. Until now.

"We've seen a reduction in truancy, a reduction in suspensions, hopefully an increase in graduates," says McCoy.

Studies in Milwaukee show the same drastic results, the school district voted this year to invest $1.7 million dollars to bring the program to 8 schools there.


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