Havoc was the order of the day at Bladensburg High School in Prince George's County.
Students were fighting, skipping classes and stealing cars from the parking lot.
Officials were stymied until they sought help two years ago from a national program designed to help schools by reaching out to troubled youths. Enter the youth advisers of the Violence-Free Zone, a program of the District-based Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, who let the students know that they were there to help them. The advisers also brought a stronger message: Control of Bladensburg was going to return to the adults.
"Kids can't be controlled by cameras, curfews and cops," said Robert L. Woodson, president and founder of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. "Those are threats, and they won't respond to that. . . . The Violence-Free Zone inspires them to obey the rules by providing life witnesses to them [who show] that just because you are from a dysfunctional household or a troubled neighborhood, you don't have to be a troubled person."
The Violence-Free Zone, now also in Largo High School, has been praised by school officials and community leaders for helping to turn around troubled schools.
At the same time, the program has fallen prey to the budget ax. Funded by Prince George's schools for the 2006-07 school year, the program is in danger of ending soon unless $500,000 can be raised to save it, authorities said.
Community stakeholders recently gathered at First Baptist Church of Glenarden to try find ways to raise money to continue the program, which Superintendent John E. Deasy would like to expand to more schools, said his spokesman, John White.
White credited the program with resolving significant conflicts and behavior issues at Bladensburg and Largo.
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