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Hands-Off Activities

T Teaching kids alternatives to violent behavior is at the heart of Hands Off: Strategies to Combat Youth Violence, a new handbook aimed at middle school students. Co-designed by the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence's Sara Hassan, SPH '07, and LaMarr Darnell Shields, the manual offers what Hassan calls "positive conflict resolution strategies" for kids dealing with bullies and gangs, as well as violent conflicts that can arise in dating and relationships.

The handbook grew out of a local, youth-produced television show called Teen Perspectives that aired in 2005 and 2006. The show — created collaboratively by WMAR-TV's Cheron Porter, Shields (then with the Urban Leadership Institute, a nonprofit he founded), and Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence director Philip Leaf — featured youngsters discussing their own experiences of being both the victims and perpetrators of violence. Many kids have a hard time agreeing on what, exactly, is an act of violence, says Hassan. For example, many don't see bullying in the hallways and playgrounds as a violent act, but as a "normal" part of going to school. Hands Off, which includes a DVD with clips from the TV show, gives teachers, parents, and youth leaders the tools to develop violence-prevention activities and engage kids in a dialogue about issues such as gang violence and self-defense.

Hassan says that she and Shields looked at a combination of individual, family, school, and community risk factors in creating Hands Off. "The public health approach to violence prevention is to find both root causes and factors that protect people and make them more resilient to violence," she notes. That violence is obvious when one looks at the statistics. Hassan says one national survey of high schoolers found that 14.2 percent of respondents fought on school property at least once during the year preceding the survey; 35.7 percent had been in a fight somewhere in that past year; 17.3 percent carried a weapon in the month preceding the survey; 7.7 percent had been threatened or injured by a weapon on school property within a year; and 5.5 percent purposely missed school within a month of the survey because they felt their schools were unsafe.

Hands Off is aimed at middle-schoolers because, at that age, kids are still forming opinions about and relations to violence. The manual is an evolving work, says Hassan, based on the feedback she hopes to get from school facilitators. "This is like a community project," she says. "We're trying to develop something that will allow the users to voice their opinions." (Copies of Hands Off are available through the center. For information, send an email to
— ME

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