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Putting students at the forefront to stem school environment problems

Monday, December 7, 2020

Educators are asked to wear many hats these days, including monitoring for bullying and other potentially dangerous acts. Why not engage students in those efforts?
Students? Yes. There’s a program that is designed to put students at the forefront of preventing violence in their schools. Called Mentoring in Violence Prevention, or MVP, the program trains a cadre of high school student mentors who meet regularly with their freshmen groups. The goal is to teach the younger students about what to look for and give them tools for de-escalating problems.
“MVP is a structured process that allows a school to have focused conversations on issues that are relevant to young people when it comes to relationships and personal identity, and when it comes to how they want to be treated and the responsibilities they have for the health and safety of others,” said Alan Heisterkamp, who is the director of the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Northern Iowa.

While the center heads up the program, the Iowa Department of Education administers the STOP School Violence Prevention and Mental Health Training grant that can provide funding to schools to implement MVP. The federal funding, through the Department of Justice, is available to help schools prevent and respond to acts of violence. The effort also will focus on helping students who face mental health challenges.

While the MVP program mitigates problem behavior, the end result is that the school’s environment is safer and healthier. It’s those two components that improve academics simply because students cannot achieve at their greatest potential if they are worried about being in school.

“MVP helps increase the likelihood that a peer will have the skill, the courage, the leadership and the support of other peers to confront those negative types of behavior before it crosses the line where there could be a school infraction or real bullying,” Heisterkamp said.

The initial training by the center is with five or six teachers at the school. After a two-day training, they take it back to faculty who will identify students who could be mentors.

“The criteria for student mentors is that they have to include every identity in that building,” Heisterkamp said. “Just how many mentors a school has depends on its size. Southeast Polk, for instance, has 180 mentors. Of course, smaller schools would have far fewer. But the key is to make it large enough and diverse enough to ensure all students are represented.

“Each of the mentors is then assigned a group of students. And then weekly or every other week, the mentors will come in and chat them up. They follow a template that tells them how to cover specific topics.” The mentors are trained to guide discussions and activities with the support of adults in the building.

The program has already been implemented in 25 school buildings across the state and is showing promise.

Heisterkamp says applications are being accepted to participate in the next round of training, which is scheduled for fall.

To receive grant funding to implement the MVP program in their building, schools must fill out an application. To learn more, register to attend an informational webinar scheduled for Jan. 19 at 3 p.m.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on March 08, 2021 at 4:32pm.