Reducing youth violence can help boost academic achievement.
Violent crime among young people is down significantly in Minneapolis, and at least some credit should go to a city-sponsored, communitywide antiviolence effort. In a recent progress report, Mayor R.T. Rybak said the program is beginning to produce results.
Although nine young people between the ages of 10 and 24 have been murdered this year, compared with eight through the same date in 2007, assaults and other indicators of violence have decreased.
That's good news for neighborhoods plagued with crime and a positive development for the entire city. And it's especially encouraging for city schools and students.
Youth crime often spills over to schools. Some of the young people who cause trouble in neighborhoods are the same students who disrupt and intimidate in and around schools. Their behavior can cause other kids to stay home or avoid classes out of fear. Some student victims can't concentrate on their studies with possible harassment or assault hanging over their heads.
To address youth violence, early this year Rybak and several co-chairs of a city task force on youth violence rolled out a plan with 34 recommendations. The suggestions were grouped under four broad goals: to connect young people with trusted adults; to intervene early with at-risk youth; to address kids who took the wrong path; and to motivate adults to reject the culture of violence that trickles down to kids.
To address those issues, the city and its partners have expanded hours and youth programming at parks, recruited more mentors, and increased home visits to help pregnant teens and young parents stay in schools. Rybak said progress has been made on every action item in the blueprint.
And it appears to be working. In 2006, those aged 10 to 24 were responsible for nearly half the violent crime in the city. This year, it's down to 25 percent.
According to school officials, the pattern is having a direct, positive effect on students. Craig Vana, who heads security for the Minneapolis School District, says that enrollment, attendance and graduation rates are up, in part because of the Safe Schools initiative with the city. And student suspension rates have leveled off in some schools and decreased in others.
While the city is reporting success on the youth crime front, school Superintendent Bill Green acknowledged that the district is falling short of some of its academic goals. In a state of the schools address, Green said students made modest gains on recent tests but failed to meet district targets in four of five academic areas.
Students did not meet target goals in kindergarten readiness, reading, math proficiency or ACT college entrance scores. The goals were set for the first year in an ambitious five-year plan to eliminate the learning gap between some white students and students of color. Early results show that student performance is moving in the right direction. But because many Minneapolis students are so far behind, Green said they must "move faster and further -- and jump higher -- than any district in the state.''
Reducing the number of assaults, shootings and other violent crimes is part of the holistic approach that's needed. Creating safe, secure neighborhoods and schools should continue to be a priority in the effort to help kids learn.
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