Growing Violence Among Children A Community Issue

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No one wants to see a school-age child get hurt, on or off campus. No one thinks that a stabbing, or worse, can occur in a rural community like Payson, but it has.

Stabbings, gang fights and other related violent and criminal acts are more likely to occur in a big city school, but the number of incidents in rural public schools appears to be rising.

Tuesday's stabbing incident brings home the dangers that students face -- a danger that many of us never had to face when we were kids in school.

Schools across the state and around the country are different than what they were just a few years ago. Violent incidents and threats of violence are, sad to say, becoming commonplace in schools, and on playgrounds where such things were once unheard of.

Would restricting children to their individual campuses help in reducing such incidents? Maybe, maybe not.

Payson school officials have no district policy that restricts high school students to campus. Schools vary on their policies and campus restrictions. Such a policy may or may not have helped with Tuesday's incident. We certainly do not know all the details, but apparently the disagreement between the two students was ongoing for several days.

The fact that a disagreement reached its ending off-campus instead of on-campus does not change the seriousness of a student having a knife and using it against another student.

Schools take a lot of precautions in an attempt to keep the hallways and school grounds safe. School officials and teachers can't monitor every child throughout the school day. Parents have to take responsibility to ensure that their child is raised to understand what is right and what is wrong.

We found some surprising information in a short time about violence involving high school students. These are national statistics, not local, but shocking nonetheless. Some of the information is dated, but we suspect it is still valid.

  • In a 2003 survey of high school students, 17.1 percent had carried a weapon to school during the 30 days preceding the survey. (Grunbaum J.A. et al. Youth risk behavior surveillance -- United States, 2003. MMWR Surveillance Summaries 2004 May 21; 53(2):1-96)
  • 71 percent of public elementary and secondary schools experienced at least one violent incident during the 1999-2000 school year, according to school principals. (Violence in U.S. Public Schools: 2000 School Survey on Crime and Safety, October 2003)
  • In 1999, 12 percent of 12- through 18-year-old students reported experiencing "any" form of victimization at school. (The Condition of Education 2002 Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, June 2002.)
  • In 1999, 12- through 18-year-old students living in urban and suburban locales were equally vulnerable to serious violent crime at school. (Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2001)
  • In 1999, one in six teachers report having been the victim of violence in or around school. This compares to one in nine teachers in 1994. (The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher, 1999: Violence in America's Public Schools - Five Years Later, Metropolitan Life, 1999)
  • Nationwide, 15 percent of high school students had participated in a physical fight in 1998. (Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999)
  • 57 percent of expulsions for bringing firearms to school involved high school students, 33 percent involved junior/middle school students, and 10 percent involved elementary school students. (Gun-Free Schools Act Report: School Year 1998-1999, U.S. Department of Education, October 2002)

So what does it all mean? Perhaps we, as a community, need to examine the increase in violence among our children and find ways to prevent it. Our goal should be to offer children a more secure environment in which to grow up. That means tackling the community's drug problem and other related issues which seldom are talked about in affluent rural communities like Payson.

A pat on the back

It is easy to complain about government, but we should also acknowledge when they do good things.

The recent flood, which affected many parts of the Rim Country, was a prime example of public and private officials helping out and doing their jobs. Neighbors also pitched in to help each other in a time of need.

Gila County road crews deserve a pat on the back for getting some washed-out roads back into service with minimum inconvenience. Some of these roads were only passable with one lane, but the road crews made them useable quickly. Other public officials helped residents who were threatened by fast-rising waters.

The Red Cross, a nonprofit group, quickly set up a shelter for families who needed a place to stay for a few hours or for the night. Their quick response is always appreciated.

Neighbors rescued one man when his van was caught in the middle of rising waters.

We need to remember that these public and private people who responded to the needs of others are also our neighbors, and you can depend on neighbors to help each other out when the need arises.

So a pat on the back goes out to all those who helped during the rising waters last week. Many times, these same people get criticized, so it is important to also commend them for a job well done.

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