Last night, I attended a town hall meeting in South Bend held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. (This center is the newest addition to the city. Click on link to learn more about it). The town hall meeting was called by former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps in response to a series of gun shootings that have happened in the past week. Some of these shootings were unfortunately fatal, and members of the community have become super frustrated and saddened with the violence. Here is the link for today’s article on the meeting: South Bend Tribune Article
In all of my years in South Bend, I have never been to a town hall meeting. This meeting was held in the auditorium of the Kroc Center, and it was super packed…standing room only if you were late. This was apparently the talk of the town. I expected that people would get the microphone and offer real solutions to ending the youth violence. But, instead there was already an agenda with a planned list of speakers from different organizations to give a two min speech on what they were doing for the youth. There were some personal speeches from concerned individuals too.
It was formal, and the atmosphere to me was not action planning. I say that because these services offered had existed for some time. We (the audience) knew about these organizations, because most in attendance were either part of those organizations or were city officials. (And, yes I didn’t know everyone in the room, but this comes from me recognizing faces of a lot of those I knew who I have seen at other community events). This meeting was sort of “preaching to the choir” in a way.
However, four things did intrigue me:
1. There are efforts to recruit 500 mentors for at-risk youth. There were mentoring applications on every seat. I believe in mentoring. I have mentored quite a few students over the years. Youth appreciate having someone to look up to, especially those who do not have positive role models in their lives.
2. Those who were formally prison or jail inmates were offering their help to speak to the youth about not taking the same road they did. I remember one time in high school when inmates on a work-release program came to speak to our class. The class was dead silent as they really spoke the truth and “horrors” of making poor decisions. Individuals with a criminal background and who have changed their ways could really connect to those who are struggling with violent behavior (i.e., in and out of juvenile jail).
3. One of the youth who spoke in the meeting said that there needs to be more job opportunities for the youth. You can read his comments in the South Bend Tribune article. This is so true…because when the youth have something to do and are getting paid, they are so much more less distracted from getting into trouble. And, with summer around the corner, no or little employment opportunities plus no school can unfortunately equal a rise in juvenile crime.
4. Coach Phelps mentioned that South Bend should raise their rankings in math and science studies, possibly competing with Shanghai (China).
Ok, so the last point on math and science left me a little confused. I definitely understand the importance of doing well in math and science. But how will this end or slow down youth violence? Are there math and science opportunities for youth in this city? Outside of school? I know that students can improve in test scores and learning in school…but does a student who excels in math/science also choose not to do violence? Maybe so because they are more focused and thinking about their future…but couldn’t this be true for those who excel in other fields (english, history,etc)?
Here is what I am imagining as an immediate solution to this community using math and science. What if there were programs for math and science (outside of school) that involved at-risk youth (not just those who can do the subjects well). The programs will be outside of the school environment during the school year (after-school?), and have to be some-what fun in addition to being educational. Hands on activities and projects. And, maybe in the summer there can be paid “internships” for these students….or a student stipend for them attending a math-science course. Maybe a stipend during the year too. (Money is an incentive.) This program could welcome students who have a history at the juvenile justice center or who have no positive role models or have been struggling in math and science. Does anyone know if such programs exist here or somewhere?
In high school, I was selected a couple times to be a math tutor and teacher assistant. I was paid to tutor struggling math students during study hall (as part of a school grant). I was also a teacher assistant to help struggling students in remedial math (pre-algebra; think I received some course credit for this). The remedial class had the most difficult students (in regards to behavior)…but the class did help them in math. I do have a heart for the youth in the city…it grieves me to hear about shootings or youth funerals. If there was a math and science program for the youth as a solution to end the violence, I would offer to help….there has to be something done…maybe I should contact the mayor’s office ….I’m just thinking out loud……..
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