Over the next three years, Fordham’s Center for Educational Partnerships will train students and staff at middle and high schools in the Bronx to prevent student violence, thanks to a federal grant of more than half a million dollars.

“Now with the coronavirus, there’s just so much more pressure on everyone,” said Anita Vazquez Batisti, Ph.D., founding and executive director of the Center for Educational Partnerships, part of Fordham’s Graduate School of Education, which applied for the grant this past summer. “A lot of adolescent children are at their tipping point, and they need even more help.”

New York City schools have historically struggled to prevent in-person and online bullying. This past December, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a mental health plan that aims to bolster social, emotional, and academic support for students citywide this fall. This $588,233 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, received by Fordham in October, will enhance the mayor’s goal, said Batisti. 

Identifying Triggers

“Our focus is on the psychological and environmental triggers, which often result in at-risk adolescents engaging in antisocial behaviors,” Batisti explained. “We feel that the people working with the kids need to identify these triggers so things can be avoided and deescalated before they reach a very serious situation.” 

The Center for Educational Partnerships plans on training teachers, students, guidance counselors, principals, and safety officers on how to prevent and reduce student violence against others and themselves through school-specific tactics, including anti-bullying training and strategies for mental health crises. The training program will also host workshops aimed to help the school community better understand negative emotions, recognize trauma and grief in students, and involve parents and caregivers in restorative justice practices.

The training program will be conducted by mental health consultants and faculty from Fordham, including social workers and psychologists. They will operate virtually and transition to on-site training when it is safe to do so.  

The center will work closely with Meisha Ross Porter, the executive superintendent for the entire Bronx borough and doctoral student at the Graduate School of Education, to select eight schools each year in the borough that would benefit most from anti-violence training, for a total of 24 schools at the end of the grant-funding period in 2023. 

School-Specific Strategies 

Before training begins, the center plans on conducting an outside assessment with school faculty and staff and examining each school’s unique challenges, past training experiences, and current mental health support systems. In a few weeks, the center’s new project coordinator will form a small advisory group with the schools from the first cohort of eight and begin virtual training.

“The committee will be formed with members from the learning community and the staff who serve the children so that needs are met at a very granular level,” said project coordinator Kathleen Walsh, Ed.D., GSE ’77, who was previously a school superintendent on Long Island and founding principal of a high-needs school in Brooklyn. “The needs are focused on the realities of each school.”

De-Escalation Strategies for the Future

At the end of each training period, the center will evaluate the success of the program by analyzing anecdotal feedback and school incident reports. The center, in collaboration with the Bronx superintendent’s office, will later create a custom list of de-escalation strategies and recommendations for each school. 

Students and staff from eight Bronx schools will be trained by the end of September 2021, and the second cohort of schools will start training in October. 

Walsh said she hopes the program will reduce negative mentalities toward struggling students and provide much-needed support for school personnel, safety officers, and parents.

“There is respect that we have to grow, earn, and work with,” Walsh said. “But when you believe in students and bring good people together, I know it works.”