After two planes flew into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, some families left New York City for New Jersey. Some of them brought behavior problems to school, according to John Dumford, Keyport Schools superintendent.
“We’ve seen a difference in the type of students we serve,” Dumford says of the 1,200 students in his small district south of Newark. “Since 9/11, there was a migration out of New York City, and as a result we needed to do something to help our teachers ? give our teachers different tools to work with.”
In December 2001, Dumford learned the Guardian Angels, the international group that started patrolling N.Y.C. subway trains to protect citizens from criminals, are now in school. The Guardian Angels run violence prevention and classroom management programs for teachers-to-be at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. They also visit schools to show teachers and administrators how to deal with violence and pinpoint bullies. By law as of 1998, New York requires educators in training and teachers to take a two-hour seminar on violence prevention. And every New Jersey school has an anti-bullying workshop in effect.
Dumford invited the Guardian Angels to Keyport to discuss conflict resolution, cultural awareness, diversity and bullying. Last February, Curtis Sliwa, the angels’ leader, led a staff development program for Keyport and neighboring schools’ staff. A three-hour workshop presentation includes role playing—with teachers and Guardian Angels acting as the bullies, the bully’s lackeys, the victims and teachers. Teachers learn how to react to a bad situation.
“It’s interactive,” Sliwa says. “It’s not just teach and preach. We’re able to simulate and get involved and see from the point of view of the bully and the victim.”
Sliwa, who started the angels when he was a McDonald’s restaurant manager at age 25 in 1979, says younger and younger children are acting out in violent ways. “You have more kids born out of wedlock, from broken families,” Sliwa says. “They are bombarded with messages about sex, drugs, violence and gangs from the music they listen to, to what they watch on television and movies.”
“I believe we’re the antidote, fortifying the kid with enough positive protection that they will be able to use language of self-defense to avoid being lured into problems,” he says.
At St. John’s University, students must participate in the two-hour seminar to be certified. “We thought their first hand experience in violence, both inside and outside of schools, together with the official state material that has to be presented, would make for a much more lively, stimulating and real experience for our students,” says Jerrold Ross, dean of the school of education at St. John’s.
Bullies often have lackeys who do most of the dirty work because bullies don’t want to leave their fingerprints, Sliwa says. Bullies are also the most charismatic, Sliwa says, noting many sociologists say the opposite—that bullies suffer from low selfesteem. And Sliwa says the “slugs” who don’t bother anyone but put their heads on the desks during class are challenging teachers’ authority. Both situations must be addressed immediately, either by talking honestly with the child or removing the child from class, for example, Sliwa says. “Just be consistent.”
And Sliwa suggests that schools set up hotline numbers so other students can report bullies without having to fear retribution.
“For all the work I could do in the streets as a Guardian Angel, I can’t get kids at a young enough age to prevent them from being caught up in violence, drugs or gang activity,” Sliwa says. “But teachers can. They are the only people who have more access to kids than anyone else.”