Serving an area that spans over 4,200 square miles, the Thames Valley District School Board is one of the largest public boards in the province of Ontario. The district covers urban, suburban, and rural communities and includes 186 schools that provide services for over 80,000 students.
In an attempt to establish comprehensive system based violence prevention programs, the T.V.D.S.B. employs a full-time violence prevention coordinator who develops, implements and supervises a wide range of initiatives from junior kindergarten to the end of high school. Many of the programs use drama, puppetry or some other performing art-based activity as the catalyst to engage students in discussions on a wide range of topics related to violence prevention.
The “Think, Talk, Walk” program presented by a ventriloquist/puppeteer teaches kindergarten students important lessons about sharing, cooperation and non-violent conflict resolution. Other primary and junior school age programs focus on developing skills and strategies to deal with bullying, child abuse, and respecting cultural and racial differences. Although a performing arts presentation often establishes the parameters and focus of discussion, the classroom teacher plays the key role in implementing follow up. Teachers are provided with detailed lessons/resources which directly support the outcomes of the initiative. Successful implementation, however, happens only when considerable effort is directed to ensuring that lessons are integrated with existing curricula and meet the required Ministry of Education expectations.
One of the most successful violence prevention programs in the board has been the “In School Mentoring Program” for students who are at risk academically and/or socially as a result of witnessing, experiencing or perpetrating violence. The program matches at risk students one on one with an adult mentor who volunteers to work with the child one hour a week during regular school hours. Following a training session and after passing police background checks, mentors work with students on developing non-violent conflict resolution skills, anger management skills, and lead self-esteem activities. This is not an academic tutoring program. Currently, 175 mentors, ranging in age from 19-77, provide the program to 68 schools.
Each year, students in grades 7-12 participate in a unique violence prevention program that uses live drama and peer led facilitation. Age appropriate plays are written, directed and produced by teachers and are performed by high school students. The themes and content of the plays have focused on sexual harassment, date rape, bystander apathy, gang violence, bullying, relationship violence, witnessing violence in the home, homophobia, and the abuse of power and control in relationships. Following the plays, students participate in structured de-briefing sessions which are led by peer facilitators. Over 600 senior high school students are trained each year as facilitators and violence prevention mentors to lead sessions with students in grades 7-10. The training often involves collaboration between schools and community partners from women’s shelters, sexual assault centres, and violence prevention advocacy organizations. Students in grades 11-12 participate in follow-up discussions led by college/university students who are trained by the violence prevention coordinator and personnel from community agencies. During the current school year, 150 college/university students have delivered workshops on the topic of dating violence.
A team approach is taken with both the high school and college/university violence prevention facilitators. At least two facilitators (male/female) lead the workshop, which is highly structured and developed by the violence prevention coordinator. In addition, classroom teachers and all faculty members receive training prior to the delivery of the program. Furthermore, board personnel (psychologists, social workers) are scheduled to be present in schools during workshops to assist with disclosures and other aspects of the initiative.
In an attempt to integrate violence prevention throughout the curriculum, the Thames Valley District School Board is currently piloting an innovative health curriculum in grade 9 classes in four schools. The program is unique in that it was designed with close adherence to Ministry of Education standards and expectations so that it could replace the existing health curriculum components of grade 9. Since classes are mandatory, all grade 9 students receive the 21 lesson program. Unlike many other violence prevention programs, this program attempts to engage both adolescent boys and girls, and it approaches the prevention of violence and other high risk behaviours by emphasizing the skills and awareness needed to make healthy relationship choices.
In order to develop student and staff leadership skills in violence prevention, a number of board initiatives must be undertaken. At the beginning of each school year, two student leaders in grades 7 and 8 from 150 elementary schools attend a board sponsored violence prevention conference. Students leaders participate in a variety of sessions and return to their respective schools equipped with ideas to implement violence prevention programs. In the past, grade 11 students have been given similar leadership opportunities, and they have met to discuss domestic and dating violence, as well as to develop plans for prevention. Similarly, the Violence Prevention Coordinator provides leadership opportunities for teachers and administrators and keeps students, parents, faculty and community partners apprised of new resources and programs. This information is readily available by visiting the Safe School website at http://www.tvdsb.on.ca/programs/safeschools/introduction.htm
The future of the system based violence prevention programs throughout the Thames Valley District School Board remains uncertain. Like most school boards/districts in North America, the Thames Valley District School Board has experienced significant funding cuts in recent years. Since the Ministry of Education does not provide an envelope of funding for violence prevention, the board must use money from others sources to support the initiatives. Currently, a committee is reviewing and evaluating the effectiveness of all violence prevention programs within the board. In the infancy of the review, committee members have struggled with the following questions:
- How do we measure success? Are the programs cost effective? Who will fund the violence prevention program? What role should schools play in violence prevention?
- Where do we find the time in an already demanding school day to include violence prevention programs?
By the end of this school year, the review committee will make its recommendations to the board and will design the template for the future of violence prevention in the Thames Valley District School Board.
- not all schools are at the same stage of readiness to implement a comprehensive approach to violence prevention; assess each school’s receptiveness before “going full steam ahead”
- senior administration of the school board have to believe in and support violence prevention initiatives
- to ensure success, there should be an identified person at the board level who oversees all of the programming; this includes integration and coordination of different activities, teacher support and training
- avoid didactic presentations; active formats that involve drama, music, role playing, and puppetry work best
- try to incorporate initiatives into existing curricula; this results in less work for classroom teachers
- gain the support of parent groups as soon as possible
- the principal is a key player; you need his/her support
- teachers should not be coerced into participating; they have to “buy in” in order for programs to be successful
- short-term initiatives produce limited benefits, at best, whereas multi-year programs are more likely to foster enduring benefits
- involve youth in all stages of program development, including planning, implementation, and follow-up
- sustainable funding has to be guaranteed for long range planning
- avoid “one time events”; strive to make violence prevention an integral part of the school culture.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2001-WT-BX-K019 awarded by the Office on Violence against Women, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Similarly, the ideas presented in this document do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the Family Violence Prevention Fund and its partners.
- Resource Type:
- Case Study
- Toolkit Sections:
- Get to Work
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- Get to Work - Work through Schools
Last modified 2004-10-21 03:57 PM