Boston center helps kids focus on learning, not violence

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Mornings at the Barron Assessment and Counciling Center in the Roslindale section of Boston begin with a metal detector search of the students before they can enter the cinder-block building that will be their school for 3 to 10 days. Each of the 13 students present on an early February day had been suspended from one of the 120 Boston public schools for bringing weapons other than guns into school. A one-year suspension of any student who brings a gun to school is mandatory. Students caught with other types of weapons are sent to the Barron Center, which opened March 9, 1987. The center is a major part of an effort by the Boston School Committee to come to terms with the presence of violence and weapons in its schools.

The youngest-looking student at Barron on this day was a boy who said he had bought a seven-inch knife from a friend for $2 and took it to school. If caught with a weapon again, he faces a possible one-year expulsion.

Barron director Franklyn Tucker says students not only have to keep up with class work, but also must complete an extensive array of academic and psychological tests. Almost 300 pupils have passed through the rigorous Barron Center program of drug and alcohol counseling, violence-prevention classes, and testing.

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The Boston school system's recent efforts to crack down on violence began in January 1986 with the formation of a student safety subcommittee. Other steps taken include publicizing the weekly reports of incidents of violence against students in school and on their way to and from it, an eight-member crisis intervention team, a 24-hour hot line for students, and an in-house suspension program to keep kids in school.

At the Barron Center, the 10 staff members ``try to get a whole picture of each student,'' says psychologist Marina Burke, despite the short time each student is at the facility.

An assessment of each student is sent to the headmaster of his or her home school along with recommendations from the center's staff that range from brushing up on multiplication tables to mental-health care.

The second phase of the center's operation is follow-up. Periodically, evaluation sheets are filled out by each student's home school to indicate the extent to which recommendations are being carried out. Occasionally, Barron staff members visit the students personally.

Although the center keeps tabs on the progress of its students, it is usually left up to the home school to provide any additional counciling. ``We make recommendations,'' says Paul Stannish, who teaches math as well as violence prevention. ``But there just aren't the resources to deal with each kid.''

Boston public school teachers who are aware of the Barron Center are mostly supportive of it, says Richard Stepman, Boston Teachers Union representative for all of the city's middle and high school teachers. But he adds: ``There aren't many teachers who even know about it.''

Burke says, ``Most of the students who come here are academically able, but they're not able to function because of the situation at home or in their neighborhood, or gang association or membership. All they ever hear is what's wrong with them. But they respond to being cared for.''

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