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Duval County schools are instituting new approach to discipline

Program aims to help kids in need

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than a week before Duval County Schools are in session Landmark Middle School Dean of Discipline Dirk Bass was busy tidying up his office.

He's not only excited about the new school year, Bass (pictured below) is confident students who land in his office will actually appreciate the visit.

Bass is now part of what he calls a "three-pronged assault to help these children" find other ways to resolve conflict, instead of resorting to violence or other bad behavior. 

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It's the core mission of a new, $15 million program to help at risk Duval County school students stay on the right path.

Back in April, when Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti first announced that the "Non-Violence Project" would be teaming up with Duval Schools, the project was still in the planning stages.

Now he's sharing with parents and students what to expect come the first day of school.

Through private funding, special counselors, life coaches as Vitti calls them, will be placed in 24 chosen middle schools to help at-risk students.

The first 10 schools, including Landmark Middle, will see the new counselors the first day of school.

Other schools will be added in waves.

"The coaches are former psychiatrists and social workers," Vitti describes. "Child advocates that have a trained history and background in working with children, conflict resolution and skill building."

Vitti said the life coaches' mission is to help students solve problems non-violently, and communicate their grievances, "In order to prevent some of the violence that they're connected to, because they don't have the skills to cope with the natural conflict that we all deal with every day in our lives."

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When a parents child finds themselves sent to see a dean of discipline or their principal for punishment, they'll hear the same message from the front lines through school employees like Bass who said as a parent, you shouldn't be worried.

"No, you should be ecstatic," Bass said calmly, with a smile. "Because we are now trying to develop the whole child."

Bass explains, "We've established a child who may have truancy problems, a child who may be having grad problems, a child who's having emotional or behavioral problems. Now, in addition to my office trying to work with this child, now we have other counselors that are going to come in to help us develop that whole child."

With four school-age kids of his own, Bass knows how important a child's education is, and that distractions, like fighting or skipping class, could derail a promising future for some students.

"These children, they're being thrown into situations that they don't have the coping mechanisms of age or experience to deal with," Bass said. "We are trying to establish a rapport, letting them know this is not an, 'I got you!' moment. This is a, 'We're trying to help you' moment.'"

Though this is a five-year partnership with the Non-Violence Project, Vitti believes we'll likely see a reduction in bad behavior at schools in just a few months.

"So many of our children just need to connect with an adult," he explains. "That's what they're lacking. They're lacking that personal relationship where they can trust someone to talk about their feelings, their challenges and their problems."


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