It has taken several decades of research and worldwide media coverage of unspeakable cruelty, suicide, and homicide in school to bring school officials, law enforcement, school counselors, students, and parents together in a global effort to combat violence in secondary schools. In the United States, the recent spate of school shooting incidents in the nation’s high schools–for example, at Pearl High School in Kentucky (1997), at Columbine High School in Colorado (1999), and at Santana High School in California (2001)–has prompted teachers, school officials, and policymakers to address the issue of school violence more directly. According to the Wellesley Center for Women, although the incidence of serious violence in schools (e.g., homicide, weapon carrying, fighting) has declined by 4% since the 1990s, students’ reports of “less serious” (e.g., bullying, taunting) and less recognized forms of violence (e.g., date rapes) have increased in high schools across America. One study, for example, found a major decline in fighting and weapon carrying among U.S. high school students between 1991 and 1997. In contrast, another study found that between 1994 and 1999, school-associated violent death rates increased. Despite a recent decline in homicide rates in U.S. schools, homicide continues to claim the lives of many adolescents in high school. Moreover, “less known” types of violence, such as sexual harassment and dating violence, remain major problems among high school students and have serious consequences. Clearly, violence is a pervasive problem in U.S. high schools that calls for school-based interventions and preventive measures.
The recent concern over violence and homicide schools has led many high schools to adopt “zero-tolerance” policies in regard to dangerous and threatening behaviors. Much debate has surrounded the zero tolerance approach, which was adopted by many schools in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings.
Although it was designed to prevent and deter violence and misconduct in school so as to ensure safety and order, several researchers and politicians have questioned the punitive nature (i.e., suspension, expulsion, and arrest) of such measures.
In conjunction with school-related policies such as zero tolerance, education and training programs for bullying and violence prevention and intervention programs have also been adopted in several high schools. According to the U.S. Secret Service, approximately 71% of all high-profile school shooters have been victimized by their peers and classmates in school, with these actions ultimately leading to the school attacks. Bullying has been found to be a major issue in the development and behavior of American children and teenagers. Many school-based bullying and violence prevention programs, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP), have taken a “whole-school” approach by targeting not just the individuals involved (i.e., victims, perpetrators), but the entire school. The premise behind the “whole-school” approach is that everyone (i.e., students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and–most recently–community leaders) has a hand in preventing violence in school. OBPP, for example, provides education and training for students, teachers, school officials, and parents concerning bullying victimization and ways to prevent or intervene when students are bullied or harassed by their peers or classmates. Other bullying prevention programs include SafePlace, an expansion of Expect Respect Program, which is also based on a multilevel, multicomponent, school-based prevention program similar to OBPP. Components of SafePlace include classroom curriculum, staff training, policy development, parent education, and support services. Although these programs are not necessarily designed exclusively for high school students, they have proved effective for youths of various ages, including high school students.
Recognizing the serious consequences of dating violence in high school, many high schools have also implemented dating violence prevention programs in recent years. Fantastic Four Guidance Department, for example, has recently initiated a dating violence program in an effort to increase awareness among high school students, parents, and school staff members of dating violence and to create a positive school climate that will promote healthy intimate relationships among teenagers. This program provides educational seminars, outreach and referral services, and resource information. Dating violence awareness programs for teenagers have also been implemented in several high schools nationwide. The Utah Department of Health, for example, established a Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week to raise awareness of the problems and consequences of dating violence. This effort not only raises awareness of dating violence, but also provides education on healthy intimate-partner relationships. Other dating violence education and training programs include the Teen Dating Violence Program, which has been facilitated by the Needham Youth Commission in collaboration with Needham High School in Massachusetts. This seminar provides all high school students with a forum in which to raise awareness and increase understanding of teen dating violence.
The serious consequences of violence in U.S. high schools, such as mental/emotional problems, suicide, and shootings, have led many school districts to adopt prevention and intervention programs that are designed to ensure a safe learning environment for high school students. Many of these programs, which adopt a multilevel education and training approach for students, teachers, parents, and school staff members, have been recognized to be highly effective in decreasing violence and promoting prosocial behavior among adolescents. Because school violence (i.e., bullying, fighting, dating violence) is a phenomenon that is influenced by complex relationships between the individual, family, peers, school, and community, it is necessary to initiate education and training programs that address multiple systems and are ecologically based. After all, it takes a village to prevent school violence.
- Anderson, M., Kaufman, J., Simon, T. R., Barrios, L., Paulozzi, L., Ryan, G., et al. (2001). School-associated violent deaths in the United States, 1994-1999. Journal of American Medical Association, 286(21), 2695-2072.
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- City of Needham. (n.d.). Teen dating violence seminars. Retrieved June 12, 2009, from http://www.needhamma.gov/index.aspx7NID-147
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- Garbarino, J. (2004). Forward. In D. L. Espelage & S. M. Swearer (Eds.), Bullying in American schools: A social–ecological perspective on prevention and intervention (pp. xi-xiii). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Limber, S. P. (2004). Implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in American schools: Lessons learned from the field. In D. L. Espelage & S. M. Swearer (Eds.), Bullying in American schools: A social–ecological perspectiveon prevention and intervention (pp. 351-363). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Utah Department of Health. (2013). Teen dating violence awareness and prevention week. Retrieved from http://www.health.utah.gov/vipp/dating%20violence/awarenessweek.html
- Whitaker, D. J., Rosenbluth, B., Valle, L. A., & Sanchez, E. (2004). Expect respect: A school-based intervention to promote awareness and effective responses to bullying and sexual harassment. In D. L. Espelage & S. M. Swearer (Eds.), Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perspective on prevention and intervention (pp. 327-350). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.