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Ending the epidemic: High schools try to change the culture

Vera House trainers are working with students at Liverpool and other area high schools to help them break the culture that accepts dating violence as a norm. The program they offer, Mentors in Violence Prevention, teaches students to become active bystanders to prevent situations from escalating into violent behavior.

Vera House trainers are working with students at Liverpool and other area high schools to help them break the culture that accepts dating violence as a norm. The program they offer, Mentors in Violence Prevention, teaches students to become active bystanders to prevent situations from escalating into violent behavior.

— Every Friday morning, about 40 students at Liverpool High School give up their academic advisement period—a kind of study hall—to bandy about ideas concerning hot topics like bullying, homophobia and dating violence.

The students are part of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, a Vera House initiative that started at Liverpool and Manlius-Pebble Hill this year. It will soon also be coming to Cicero-North Syracuse High School, Nottingham High School and Henninger High School.

MVP is a national program brought to the Central New York area by Vera House and Syracuse University a few years ago. Vera House then reached out to area schools at every opportunity, teaching in health classes or gym classes. However, MVP educator Tiffany Braley said those programs offered limited access to students, as well as limited opportunities to bring about real change.

“This summer, we spent time thinking about, ‘How can we be more effective at what we do?’” Braley said. “We made some proposals to each of the schools and were focusing on fewer schools, but doing more intense work within the school.”

MVP trainers like Braley and partner Raheem Mack give a presentation to the whole school, then, with the aid of staff members—in Liverpool’s case, school social workers Tracy Lunney and Jen Prusinowski—take on students who volunteer to be trained in the core content, offer them that training and work with them throughout the year to train them as peer leaders.

The MVP program, according to Vera House’s web site, is a “leadership training program that motivates young people to play a central role in solving problems that historically have been considered ‘women's issues’—sexual assault, dating violence, and sexual harassment.” The program helps students stand up to peers who act as abusers without putting them in physical danger and seeks to break through stereotypes about gender roles.

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