Temple Judea, in Massapequa, hosted a seminar last Friday for teachers, school administrators and other adult professionals who work with young people, focusing on how to address and prevent youth violence. The seminar began with students who recently attended a seminar called Teens on TRAC (Teen Relationship Abuse Conference), reporting on the findings and recommendations of the students who attended the conference.
Teens on TRAC was organized by and for high school students and was sponsored by the UJA-Federation Task Force on Family Violence. At this conference teens led groups for approximately 100 of their peers on subjects such as abuse, depression, stereotyping, bullying, and suicide. The students led their groups through various exercises such as role-playing and then discussed ways of dealing with the issues that many teens are facing today.
At the seminar on Friday, the leaders of some of the discussion groups brought the ideas and suggestions from their peers to the attention of the school personnel and professionals and discussed what took place in each of their workshops.
Kathy Rosenthal, CSW, the assistant director of Community and Family Services, introduced each of the four teens who represented their peers from across Long Island who attended Teens on TRAC and then allowed each of them to speak about their individual workshops.
Marissa Frankel, a junior at Syosset High School, is very active in various peer groups and was a participant in the first conference of this type which took place last year. Frankel is the president of her school's Students Against Drunk Driving chapter and the secretary of the Nassau County and New York State chapters of SADD. She is a volunteer at Mid-Island JCC and is one of two students across the nation who is involved in the Million Mom March which will take place on Mother's Day in Washington, which is geared to advocating for more gun legislation.
Frankel spoke about how teen violence is on the rise and explained that her workshop involved bringing in other teens who had been abused. Frankel explained that this was an important workshop for some of the teens because they learned that they were not the only ones suffering through this and learned ways to prevent it and help themselves. She outlined ideas that were raised during the workshop, which included: bringing survivors of relationship abuse, close in age to the students, to share their experiences, warning signs and to help those in an abusive relationship; teach students warning signs of abuse, depression and suicide; make students aware that help is available and let them know how to access it; and creating a peer mentor program in the schools.
Jamai White, with the Nassau County Youth Board, a senior at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, is on the board of the NC Youth Board, is on the funding review committee for the board and in her own school is the co-editor of the literary magazine, a member of the science ecology club, co-director of design for the school play, a participant in Spirit Week, runs spring track, as well as being a member of Amnesty International Girl Scouts and being an animal preserve volunteer.
White's workshop focused on the dangers of assumptions. The participants played "The Assumption Game" and discussed how assumptions often lead to school violence because of misconceptions. The suggestions that were issued by her group included: creating peer mediating groups in school, "Because many felt that when students have someone they can trust and talk to or work through or solve a problem with, then it greatly reduces school violence," according to White. "Students felt that for a peer mediation program to be instituted in the schools there must be an immense trust among the students, peer mediators and the faculty that run the program." Another suggestion was to help students to ignore instigators and bullies and cope with bullying behavior because the teens felt that if the instigators are ignored they will stop the behavior.
Two students from the Elmont Peer Helpers, Sheldon Smith, a senior who is the co-president of Elmont Peer Helpers and is president of the national honor society, a participant in the United Nations program and began his own Web page development company and Tunidra Singh, a senior at Elmont Memorial High School who facilitated last year's CW Post Teen Speak Out is involved in her church and plays a musical instrument, spoke to the adults gathered about their workshop.
Smith and Singh's workshop involved role playing about gangs, date rape, prejudice, relationships and not fitting in. The suggestions raised through their workshop were: Having students do community service instead of being given punishments such as school suspensions; bringing speakers to talk about issues that are important to teens, speakers with real life experiences to share; doing workshops that give students the skills to deal with peer pressure and stress, creating a forum for practicing management skills and evaluating the consequences of fighting; creating a confidential safe space in schools where students can discuss the stress of school and choose whether or not supervision is needed; and creating conflict resolution and peer mediation programs.
Rosenthal noted that each of the workshops discussed the importance of peer mediation and reminded those at the conference that these suggestions all came from teens.
The forum was then opened up to questions from the audience for the teen leaders. One of the questions that all of the students had a response to was the question of how they would suggest the governor spend the state money allocated for various programs. White noted that there are already many good programs in the communities and suggested that the governor provide the existing institutions with additional funding. "The agencies I know of are doing a really great job, they just don't have the funds to reach their full capacity," she noted.
Frankel said that one of the issues that was raised in her workshop was the fact that often teens are lectured to and that they don't respond well to that. She noted that it is much more effective for students to speak to their peers, who have the same type of problems in the same time period and suggested that the governor put more funding into student-run programs.
Singh suggested that what many towns are lacking is a community center and suggested that the governor put funding into building community centers where youths can go after school and stay out of trouble.
Smith stated, "Without funding none of our programs are going to be successful, regardless of how hard we try. I would advise the governor to give us a little extra funding or somewhere we can go to help the programs and give them some sort of backing."
Each of the students went on to discuss how student run programs and conferences such as the one run by teens had affected their lives. A commentary was made by Evelyn Roth, the vice president of Family, Community and Long Island Services FEGS, about how two nights after the Columbine tragedy the students met and discussed whether or not something like that could happen in their schools and for the most part students in larger schools said yes while students in smaller schools said no. The students in smaller schools, she said, recognized that everyone knew what was going on in the school and that there was a real sense of community and connection. Programs such as peer mediation groups break even the larger schools into smaller communities, said Roth, adding "These young people are making a community within their schools."