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Flip the Script on Youth Violence and Justice

Some children as young as kindergarten are being pushed out of schools, leading them to crime, drugs, violence all while not getting the education they need, said advocates Thursday.

Community Media Workshop Panel. Photo by Salina Jewell

“When [the schools] have a student that’s hurting their numbers, they drop them,” said Jennifer Valles, associate director at Heartland Alliance Human Care.

“We need to flip the script on school dropout and think about [it as] school push out,” said Elana Quintana, executive director at the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice.

Valles, Quintana and a panelist of experts spoke to the media about violence, justice, and incarceration of youth at a program for journalists at Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. It was sponsored by Community Media Workshop.

Some of those there, including people from places such as the Safer Foundation and Becoming a Man have specific programs to help students continue their education and stop them from turning to crime, once the students have been “pushed out.” A term that these advocates prefer to use rather than “drop outs.”

One of the reasons students are dropped from schools is violence and attendance, said Valles.

The violence can be something that happened to them or something they saw, and the experience affects the students’ performance in school.

Valles said once expelled, students don’t get into other schools and instead often turn to gangs to get a sense of family, community and belonging.

But Valles and Quintana did point to social advocacy agencies throughout Cook County that are helping students get on a better track.

Some of those who have gone to these programs have been able to turn their lives around. Safer Foundation reports that more than 300 of their clients were able to receive a high school equivalency diploma.

Guns and Violence were among the other topics discussed at Thursday’s panel.

Safer Foundation’s Public Policy and Advocacy Director Anthony Lowery said that he was surprised to see most of the juvenile crimes were not violent but mostly gun possession.

“When I asked kids how many had access to a weapon, they all raised their hands,” said Lowery.

Lowery said that these kids felt the need to carry guns because they feared for their safety at school, revealing a bigger issue within the schools.

According to a Chicago Public Schools news release in February the agency is working to create awareness while holding schools and their principals accountable for safety through data transparency and by delivering targeted supports where they are needed most.

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