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Two weeks ago, the Department of Education (DOE) began training safety-related school aides in conflict resolution, something the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), a student-run organization, has been advocating for more than a year. (See Demanding an Academic Ethos: Students Critique Cop Presence, City Limits Weekly #547, Aug. 7, 2006.)

The first session of a 15-hour course entitled “Crisis Intervention Strategies to Promote Positive Student Behavior,” set to be completed later this month, will train up to 25 participating school aides in defusing confrontations and increasing positive student behavior, according to DOE Deputy Press Secretary Keith Kalb. The course is part of a larger program for school aides the DOE started in July 2005, which is part of a professional development initiative begun in March 2004. High school, middle school and elementary school principals throughout the city were notified of the course via e-mail.

“We are really happy we got [this] adult mediation victory,” said Elizabeth Vincent, a member of the UYC and an 11th grader at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx. In a series of meetings with DOE officials, the UYC had pushed for school aides to be trained as mediators, said another UYC member, Juan Antigua, a 12th grader at Clinton High School in the Bronx. That the DOE put this in the budget is a “really good step towards change, a step towards a greater solution,” said Antigua. The idea for training aides to mediate, he said, came from South Bronx High School where school aides already serve as mediators.

“Nine out of ten conflicts are resolved by my school aides,” said Felice Lepore, principal of the Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports, a school within South Bronx High School. One reason school aides are effective is that they can relate to students, said Lepore. “It’s not the big bad principal, assistant principal, dean, teacher.” Many school aides are in their early 30s and live in the same areas students live in, said Lepore. “They are able to tell the students: Don’t make the same mistakes I did. This is powerful.”

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx, was in gangs, didn’t graduate from high school, had to get my GED. I know where these kids are coming from. I’ve been there, done that,” said Steve DeJesus, a school aide at South Bronx High School. As a mediator, he lets students in conflict speak together to resolve disputes, and recommends courses of action. Because he is a school aide, said DeJesus, students “see me in the hallway, in the lunchroom. I am constantly involved with these kids and speaking to them” and asking them “how’s everything at home, how’s baseball, basketball, how’s HW.” By doing so, said DeJesus, he “builds a relationship” with the students.

De Jesus, who had previous experience in a mediation program, said of the new DOE school aide training in conflict resolution, “I think it’s a great idea, it bridges the gap” between students and school officials. “It’s a start,” said Lepore, “The biggest thing is that it’s being implemented.” Speaking of the UYC, Lepore said, “I’m so happy for them. They’ve been fighting this fight for quite a while. And it’s about time.” [10/16/06]

– Iman Hassan

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