One Teacher’s Take on How to Stop the Violence

VIVA Teacher Leader Karon Stewart is a middle school math teacher in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. Her students face significant challenges, not the least of which is surviving the violence in the neighborhoods. Stewart talks eloquently about the violence and how it affects her students and herself. It was the centerpiece of her speech when she was invited to introduce Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a recent meeting of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

One of Stewart’s students was shot  while Duncan still served as head of the Chicago Public Schools. She reminded him of that incident and told the audience of Duncan’s personal response to her email asking for help in getting information about the condition of the student, who at the time he was presumed dead. After his speech, Duncan asked Stewart to share her ideas for combating the overwhelming and seemingly intractable challenge of ending violence against youth in America. This is what she told him:

Dear Secretary Duncan,

It was an honor to introduce you to the “Teacher Voice” conference participants.  At that time, you charged me with the task of suggesting ways to stop the violence in the Chicago. I really wish I had the answers. We feel each other’s pain. I am always devastated by the level of violence I see. Unfortunately, I cannot allow my emotions to sidetrack me from what I am paid to do: teach middle-school math. Even in saying that, I am in danger of becoming as anesthetized as my students, and I applaud you for always bringing this travesty to the forefront.

I will share my opinion.

Urgent /Long Term

Parents are the key factor and we have to find ways to support them in their efforts to raise their children.  I also believe that when students have chronic behavioral or discipline issues, their parents should be mandated to attend regular conferences that include a community service component. Finally, something has to be done to help children in homes with parents who are substance abusers. It appears that children who commit violent acts are more likely to be in this demographic.

Short Term

Expand the Chicago Park District programs, but you have to make it a safer place in some areas. Increase police presence in more positive ways. For example, have Police District teams challenge teams of teachers from the schools in their district to bi-annual basketball games. The “MVP’s” from these teams would then play student stars.

Expand the G.R.E.A.T program (Gang Resistance Education and Training). It was very effective at my school. The woman officers squashed a really violent series of altercations between about 16 7th and 8th grade girls.

Bring back Camp Hastings, the YMCA camp that gave students a chance to get out of the neighborhood for a week and participate in a plethora of outdoor activities.

Mentoring Programs

One of my students was selected in the Barbie I Can Be…Mentee Search and attended the White House Project awards ceremony in New York. She returned more purposeful. She became a classroom leader and inspired several other students to be successful.

I have also heard very good things about the Steve Harvey program. That program offers a Mentoring Weekend to break the misguided traits of manhood and introduce role models who provide positive examples of manhood.

Socio – Emotional Learning and Arts Programs

Parents, students, and teachers in challenging communities need to participate in programs that include an effective conflict resolution component.

Empower Communities

Campaign to end the “Snitches get Stitches” mentality so people will not be afraid to fight against abusive conditions. Utilize veterans in these programs. They are not afraid of the gangs and they push back!

Challenge potential gang members to make a positive impact on their communities. Penalties for petty crimes should include more extensive community service options, like cleaning vacant lots, assisting victims of violent crimes, etc. Many students, unfortunately, identify with a gang without actually participating in criminal activities. I understand this, but the gang mentality has to be replaced with something positive.

Update on my student who was shot:

My concern for this student began right after I added a picture of him and  two other boys to my Donors Choose web page. Another teacher said he was going to be a hoodlum. Unfortunately I understand why the teacher said that. But my student was facing major obstacles. His mother was sick (she has since died and while his family was at the memorial, his house was robbed) and he had an enormous amount of unsupervised time. This is the biggest problem with children in depressed areas. I began tutoring that student and another Bond alumni every Wednesday, after school for three years. I, along with several other teachers in the building began rewarding them with gift cards when they received good grades, and eventually, making the honor roll.  They were successful at a school that was voted one of the worst schools in the US.  I am very proud of him. He overcame tremendous obstacles and setbacks, but it took THE WHOLE VILLAGE.


Karon Stewart, National Board Certified Teacher

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Comments (3)

  1. Karon Stewart

    The Chicago Police Department payment scandal is unfortunate. I really want to share my opinion, and encourage you to share yours.

    The Mayor’s job is to run the city. The Teacher’s union president’s job is to make sure that our contract is fair. The teacher’s job is to make sure that students get the best education possible. It is the parents job to see to the overall well being of their children. Teacher’s have to go through an evaluation process. If parents are not satisfied with the mayor, they can vote for another one. If the teachers are not satisfied, they can vote for another president. Who gets to performance manage, vote out, or evaluate parents?

    I don’t want to point a finger at anyone, but I see too many young children unsupervised in the street at night. I see too many children unsupervised all afternoon with nothing to do but get in trouble. My mother had to work, but I participated in activities at the park and that kept me out of trouble, but some parks are not safe. Our babies are shooting our babies. Where are their parents? What is the parents level of responsibility? Let us ALL be in the village.

    In the meantime, I reiterate, it is not safe. The police are the last line of defense. I would like more positive police involvement in the school. The GREAT program was… great; police conducted interventions, talked to parents, spoke at assemblies, and encouraged the students to think about their actions. They were very helpful and could do a lot more, but this costs money.

    Whenever I read about a shooting in the paper, the first thing I do is look at the name or the address to see if it’s one of my students. Two years ago, my sweet little 17 year old cousin was shot with a stray bullet and died on the spot. I could go on, and on. It’s very sad at times, and I want the violence to end.

    This is the second time I have felt like Mayor Emmanuel could have been more transparent, but I agree 100% with his intent. The health and safety of the inhabitants of Chicago should be his first priority. I wish I had the answers. I don’t. That ‘s his job.

  2. Larry Hobson

    We have our share of shootings in Phoenix, but bullying is the major problem. As a Crossing Guard I treat both Students and Parents as “Family” and they respond “in kind”. We are the school’s “1st responders”

    Larry Hobson

    • Karon Stewart

      Can you share a success story?
      How did you handle the incident?
      How did the parents respond?
      Thank you for your comment.

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