NEW YORK — A technique that Mayor Eric Adams has championed as part of his efforts to curb gun violence on New York City streets may also play a role in his approach to addressing conflict in schools, budget documents show.
Adams has cited “violence interrupters” — trusted community members who fan out into neighborhoods to identify and quash conflict before it turns deadly — as key to his plans to turn the tide on rising gun violence.
Tucked into his April Executive Budget is a proposal to experiment with a similar approach in city schools.
The Education Department is allotting $9 million in federal funding next year to “contract with community-based organizations that specialize in violence interruption techniques (e.g., de-escalation, mediation, conflict resolution) to make students feel safe and supported in their schools,” budget documents show.
It’s still unclear what that will look like, and an Education Department spokeswoman offered no further details, saying “we are making continued investments in student safety programs, including violence interruption, and look forward to sharing more soon.”
Experts who have studied New York City’s neighborhood-based violence interruption efforts, called “Cure Violence” programs, and community groups experimenting with the technique in schools say it can help curb classroom conflicts — as long as it’s implemented carefully.
“If we don’t do this type of a program… the only thing we have is police and formal policies and protocols, and that’s no way to run a society,” said Jeffrey Butts, a professor at John Jay College who has studied the Cure Violence programs.
One Bronx-based Cure Violence organization, Bronx Rising Against Gun Violence, or BRAG, offers a preview of what violence interruption could look like in schools.
The group has been sending conflict mediators into four Bronx schools — two middle schools and two high schools — for several years to identify kids at high risk of getting drawn into violence, and working with them to find alternative ways to deal with conflict.
Yadira Moncion, the program supervisor, said the schools she works with find the mediators a valuable resource, especially this year as reports of physical fights and weapons in schools have increased.
“They look for us — they want us to be there,” Moncion said.
Key to the success of the initiative in schools is finding adult mediators who kids can relate to — and don’t view as part of the school, Moncion said.
“Sometimes our students can’t relate to educators,” said Moncion, a former city teacher. “You want the credibility, that’s what makes it unique.”
Butts said finding “credible messengers” is a core component of violence interruption, whether on the streets or in the classroom.
“You want someone who knows what you’re going through,” he said. “You don’t have to be lectured by someone who has no clue what your life is like.”
Elijah Corporan, one of BRAG’s school mediators, said his work looks a little different each day.
Sometimes, it involves stepping into the middle of a crisis to deescalate — like when a sixth-grader got so upset at a teacher in a hallway outside Corporan’s office last week that he began “yelling, flailing his arms, crying,” Corporan said. “I was like, ‘take a second to breathe…take step back, what happened?’” he recalled.
Other days, it means working on relationships with students so they’ll trust him enough to alert him to brewing conflicts in time to intervene, he said.
Moncion said that if BRAG gets wind of a more serious conflict, the organization stations neighborhood-based violence interrupters outside school during dismissal, when violence is often most likely to erupt.
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