The historic closing of 49 elementary schools in Chicago left many parents bitter and feeling left out as they try to get involved in new schools. Yet parent engagement is essential for school improvement, and principals are faced with the challenge of building trust at schools that scored poorly on surveys of parent involvement.
Claude Robinson, Jr., Uhlich Children's Advantage Network
Adults get a failing grade for preventing violence in the Teen Gun Survey and Report Card, an annual national survey conducted by the Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network (UCAN), a social service agency for youth and families. Teens gave adults the worst grades ever in the most recent survey, more than half said America would be better off without handguns, and 44 percent said more violence-prevention programs are needed in schools, says Claude Robinson Jr., executive vice-president for youth development and diversity at UCAN. In Chicago—where gun violence has killed almost 30 CPS schoolchildren this year—teens were particularly harsh on adults, says Robinson. He spoke with writer Brandon Beech about the importance of listening to youth and providing them with adult leadership to curb violence, especially among young men.
How easy do kids say it is to get guns?
Extremely easy. I had a conversation with a 14-year old who said he knows exactly where the guns are, who has the guns, and that if he wanted to get a gun, he could.
Kids gave adults a D+ on “listening to and understanding young people, curbing the availability of guns and making sure all of our communities are safe.” What does that say?
Listening to and understanding young people is vital for building a quality relationship. Adults often impose [their] knowledge and authority. We’re not willing to just sit there and be present, and allow young people to talk.
Why is violence affecting schoolchildren so widespread?
There is a breakdown in family. There is a valuation of gang culture. There are guns and drugs, and young people don’t have a sense of self-worth and purpose. There’s no value placed on their life, so they’re not going to value anyone else’s.
What can be done to help children who live in homes with a history of violence?
There has to be some way to build the capacity of a family, [build] stability and social values, education and employment. And we have to find stronger ways for parents, regardless of whether they’re together, to work towards the betterment of their children. Many African-American homes are single-parent households. That puts a tremendous strain on whatever parent that is, to be there and to provide to nurture the child.
This year’s gun violence involving schoolchildren happened outside of schools. What does this suggest?
Historically, schools have been a safe haven, and young people feel safer in schools. The reality is that there are gangs in America and gangs here in the city of Chicago, and they aren’t [active] inside schools. They’ve dropped out of school. Also, a large number of people are unemployed, or underemployed, and are doing absolutely nothing with their lives. So they’re frustrated, they’re hurt, and they become a part of the violence epidemic. Children are just caught up in a community filled with violence, guns, and people who are severely frustrated and take that out on other people.
So should parents feel their children are safe when at school?
I definitely think they should feel that way.
Should CPS be involved in advocating for gun control legislation?
Yes. Schools are in the community. Young people live in the community, and they spend more time in the community than in the school. The more prevention you can do, the more you can help young people cope with those situations, the better chance they will have to concentrate on school.
What are the best solutions for schools to prevent teen violence?
[Schools need] programs to teach young people coping skills and how to adapt to situations that are often violent. Young people act out because of situations that they’re in. Most violent people are hurting from an emotional standpoint. Often, it’s a cry for help. Setting up an environment where young boys and young men can sit down and share some of the frustrations they have with life, with parents, and just what’s going on [in their lives] overall, is a good way for them to process feelings.
What about alternative programs during the summer, when kids have less to do and may be more likely to get into trouble?
Programs that are socially and culturally relevant are needed the most. Society conditions young men to perform, and success is often judged by what you have and what you look like. We need to help young men build lives beyond [valuing] performance or money, and teach them positive values--how you build a family, how you relate to people in a more harmonious way. More importantly, help them to dream of a purpose in life.
What can Chicagoans do to help stem gun-related violence?
Adults and ordinary citizens should see that this is our problem. People tend to believe that it’s just in certain neighborhoods. It may happen more in certain neighborhoods, but it impacts the entire city. Chicago is looking to become an Olympic city. People are very aware of how gun violence and how gangs and, in general, apathy in parts of the city, impact what the city can be on an international level. If people go to the Taste of Chicago and they have to deal with guns and people being shot and killed, is that the image we want Chicago to have? Unless we all see it that way, violence is going to continue to grow.