A TEACHER'S PLAY HELPS TEENS IN FLORIDA TALK ABOUT GUNS

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* Even with the proliferation of antiviolence curricula, sometimes teachers may decide to simply take matters into their own hands. Arnold Pakula, a fifth-grade teacher at the Highland Oaks Elementary School in Dade County, Fla., reached that point after a number of shootings of teenagers in his area.

At the time, he was serving on the board of the local parent-teacher association. The group's discussion turned to the problems of kids with guns, ``and I said, I really need to do something in my fifth-grade class,'' Mr. Pakula says.

So he wrote a play about the accidental death, by gunshot, of a young student. The play has six characters, each of whom sees the sad incident through a different lens - a friend, a parent, a teacher, for instance.

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The play was originally intended for an elementary-school audience, but Pakula developed another version for older kids, in which the characters include coaches and boy- or girlfriends.

The teacher and his student-actors are regularly invited to take their play to schools in the Miami area. The short performance is usually followed by ``lots of questions and answers about guns and gun possession,'' Pakula says. His own school is suburban and mainly white, but the audiences are typically black or Hispanic.

``Race doesn't matter,'' Pakula says. He has seen all kinds of kids come up after the play to talk about its connection to events in their own lives, whether injuries, murders, or suicides.

As with the mediation programs in many schools, the play's goal is to foster communication and rethinking in place of violent conflict. ``When kids talk to kids,'' says Pakula, ``they learn more.''

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