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Bronx Students Survey Peers About Violence Then Create Safety Plan

'Keep Calm and Stop the Violence'
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Bronx Youth Council/Children's Aid Society

CLAREMONT VILLAGE — Tucked safely away at a wooded campsite upstate, some Bronx schoolchildren recently took turns standing before a video camera to channel scenes from their neighborhood.

“If you don’t give me the money by the end of the week, I’m going to put a bullet in your head,” a boy said, imitating a drug dealer in a skit.

During an on-camera interview, one girl recalled a violent summer evening where she lives.

“It was Fourth of July. They started it off with fireworks, but ended it with gunshots,” she said. “Everybody was paying attention to the pretty colors, but not the people being killed.”

Students from four Bronx schools — P.S. 50, C.S. 61 and Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School in Claremont Village and P.S. 211 in Tremont — made the video through an after-school leadership program called Bronx Youth Council, run by the nonprofit Children’s Aid Society.

 Students in the Bronx Youth Council surveyed 256 peers, then developed a community-safety plan.
Students Create a Community-Safety Plan
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This year, the group focused on violence in the community, with an emphasis on police-resident relations, bullying and street violence, which often involves gangs and guns.

Earlier this year, they surveyed 256 peers.

They found that half of the elementary-school students had been bullied in the previous year and nearly 70 percent of the middle and high-school students said they had heard of someone in their community who was seriously hurt or killed by violence.

After conducting the survey, the student group analyzed the results, then produced the video to share their findings and developed a community-safety plan to do something about them.

“When something [violent] happens, people forget to talk to young people about it,” said CAS’s Stacey Campo, who directed the project. “It might seem like a whole other world, but they’re thinking about it.”

In the video, the students expressed mixed feelings about the police — officers can be rude or rough or slow to respond, but they also break up fights and rein in gangs, the children said.

Several girls described personal encounters with bullies — boys ridiculed one about her glasses and tossed out her lunch; classmates taunted another about the size of her forehead; and a clique of girls threatened to jump a different girl.

“They like to push people and call you names,” Jada Martinez, a seventh-grader at P.S. 211, said in an interview Wednesday.

“They pick on little people,” added her schoolmate, sixth-grader Bryan Hernandez.

Outside of school, bullies are replaced by gang members who may be the same age as their middle-school counterparts, but are more dangerous.

Students know to cross the street or find another route home when they see the groups of young men gathered by the park or on a street corner, Jada and Bryan explained.

But still the students feel threatened.

“You worry about getting shot when you’re walking home by yourself,” said their schoolmate, Anthony Gutierrez, a sixth-grader.

The Youth Council students, along with CAS and the nonprofit WHEDco, settled on four ways to make the neighborhood safer.

The city and private agencies should: offer more youth employment programs; increase police patrols, while working to improve relations between officers and residents; board up abandoned lots along Southern Boulevard; and add more street lighting.

The group has taken some initial steps to enact its plan.

Members have reached out to elected officials about job programs. They have scheduled a visit to the local precinct’s monthly community meeting. They have filed 311 complaints about the lots and sent letters to the owners. And they have signed petitions calling for more streetlights.

“We still need to teach our children that one person can make a difference,” said Robin Fleshman, CAS’s deputy director of its school-age division. “But, what’s equally important is our collective voice and movement — that’s what will help us transform our community.”

The students presented their video and safety plan during a public forum at C.S. 61 Wednesday evening.

Parent Beverly Emers welcomed the calls for better lighting and policing, though she said building better relationships with cops would take time.

“It’s potentially explosive around here between the police and the community,” she said. “It could blow up at any time.”

Wilfredo Pagan added that adults need to help make the community safer for young people.

“I’m not going to wait for someone to parachute in and save my children,” he said. “It’s up to us.”