School safety is an issue from the hallways of the country's smallest schools to some of the largest ones, Storm Lakers learned at a national youth conference last week.
Several students and faculty members from the Storm Lake Middle School traveled to Washington, D.C., for the Youth Safety Summit, sponsored by the National Crime Prevention Council. The summit ran from Feb. 15 to Feb. 19. Middle school students Drew Jones, Katelyn Croker and Jenny Jones, teacher Jaymie Bral and school liaison officer Jodie Stuckenschneider attended the conference.
The three eighth graders had a chance to talk school safety with over 800 fellow students from not only the United States, but other countries as well.
"All of them are serious about crime and finding ways to stop it," Drew Jones said of the other students he met.
Stuckenschneider said it was interesting to get the different perspective of kids in larger cities.
"It was interesting because we got to see how important crime prevention is in the inner city - Storm Lake has crime but not to the same magnitude as it is in some places," Stuckenschneider said. "But all of these students have the same concerns on safety, and how to stop bullying, teasing and fighting."
The conference featured various student-led sessions on crime prevention and substance abuse, and ways to present those topics to fellow students.
"The summit was about empowering students to take a stand against violence," Bral said.
There was a lot of focus on community service and encouraging students to get involved in community events and activities, Stuckenschneider said.
"Getting students involved and proud of their community is something our town needs to look at," she said.
The Youth Safety Summit is part of a Youth Safety Corps grant the Storm Lake School District received in the fall of 2000. That grant paid for representatives from Storm Lake to attend the conference. Youth Safety Corps is an initiative by the National Crime Prevention Council. The program is designed to get youth involved in school improvement.
One of the exciting parts of the Youth Summit was a march against youth violence, where all of the conferences participants rallied and marched seven blocks from the conference site to the Pentagon City Mall. The rally was on the last day of the conference and the students carried signs and placards speaking out urging crime prevention.
The students had never been involved in something like that. "It was cool to see all of the people come together for the march," Croker said.
"Along the way, cars were all stopped and people were paying attention to what we were doing," Jenny Jones said.
While the rally was a big visible event, the students learned how to encourage those attitudes during the sessions at the conference. Some helped shed a new light on drug problems that seem old in the Midwest, Stuckenschneider said.
"Some of the big cities in the east haven't had meth problems, while it has been a big problem in Iowa," she said.
Another session showed the Storm Lake representatives ways to bring their message into classrooms back home. One student group did a presentation using puppets to show the effects of violence in schools and at home.
"That group of students used puppets to get a message across about respect and bullying and inclusion," Bral said.
That student involvement is something Bral and Stuckenschneider would like to see happen here.
"We talked about getting middle school kids to teach the elementary kids how to take stand, " Stuckenschneider said.
"We want to take that idea and have students write scripts and teach some of the topics," Bral added.
One session Bral was interested in dealt with youth crime-reporting.
"The idea is to teach the student body how to report crime, theft and vandalism," Bral said. "The kids are the eyes and ears of the school, and usually know what's going on."
A program that caught Stuckenschneider's eye was a "teen court" for first-time offenders with problems like truancy. A student who is charged would have fellow students act as the attorneys, jury and judge.
"It was an interesting session, and it shows how to alleviate some of the headaches Juvenile Court has," she said.
Now the group will meet with the Youth Safety Corps team at the middle school to discuss implementing some of the programs here.
The group also had time throughout the five-day summit to tour some of the landmarks around Washington, D.C.
The students had an opportunity to see the Korean War Memorial, a relatively new addition. "There were statues of soldiers that looked like they were in battle, and then a wall with just faces," Jenny Jones said, describing the monument.
They also took an "after-dark" tour of D.C., which gave them the opportunity to see many of the monuments and buildings lit up for the night. Drew Jones said it was interesting to see, along with Arlington Cemetery.
Stuckenschneider said seeing the security measures in place following Sept. 11 was moving.
"It was emotional to see the cement barricades around all the buildings and monuments because of the attacks," she said.