This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Student Union activists believe that respect and open communication between students and administrators can stop most school violence before it starts. Through its Campaign for Non-Violent Schools, PSU organizers hope to improve relations among these groups citywide.
PSU announced the campaign at a School Reform Commission meeting in February. In March, PSU organizer DeVante Wilson testified before the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations about lessons he learned from the recent violence at South Philadelphia High School.
“One thing that was going around the school was that the African American students felt that the Asians had more resources,” Wilson said.
“We found that wasn’t true, but the whole breakdown of communication brought that [violence] on.”
Wilson, a senior at Carver High School, told the commissioners that students are more receptive when administrators give respect and attention to their ideas.
Organizers say they’ll support anything that helps students and administrators better understand each other. PSU members have been invited to join the District’s blue-ribbon anti-violence panel, and they’re conducting a survey to assess specific problems at particular schools.
By next year they hope to replicate successful initiatives, such as Sayre’s decision to involve students in the training of security guards.
What PSU organizers don’t want are more metal detectors and bars on the windows.
“It’s hard to learn when you’re being treated like a prisoner,” said Mariah Porter, a senior at Overbrook.