NYAGV Education Fund’s reACTION After-School Program
By Shaina Harrison, Program Director, NYAGV Education Fund
reACTION is the NYAGV Education Fund’s after-school program for youth living in New York City communities plagued by gun violence. Our objective is to reduce gun violence through education and hands-on activities. reACTION has a unique curriculum, developed by NYAGV over several years of working with high school students. The program runs throughout the full school year and focuses on personal responsibility, community engagement and activism.
In existence for eight years, the program currently serves approximately 100 students in high schools and middle schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan. We are excited to be able to expand reACTION in the 2013/14 school year to two more high schools. Our survey data shows that the students who are involved in the program are less likely to use guns or be involved in gun violence and are more likely to go to college.
We know from the survey we give our students at the beginning of the program that they know where they can get guns and they know people who have guns. The reACTION program helps students make the right choices, i.e.:
- Not to pick up or use guns.
- Avoid people that carry guns.
- Not to join gangs.
- Deal with conflict in non-violent ways.
- Develop skills for productive and successful lives.
reACTION lessons help students learn about themselves, their peers and their communities, and how to become effective advocates to reduce gun violence. As a final project, students design and organize an educational event in their school to highlight what they’ve learned over the course of the year. Last year, students at a Brooklyn high school sponsored a ‘Silence the Violence’ Day, to symbolize the young voices that are lost every day to gun violence. The whole school was involved even though the reACTION students numbered just 40. The reACTION program culminates with an educational trip to Albany, the state capital, where students meet with elected officials to advocate for sensible gun legislation. They have an opportunity to speak at a press conference and to tell their personal stories about how gun violence has affected them.
Highlights of the Reaction curriculum include:
- How each student’s talents and skills can lead to a productive life.
- How to deal with and overcome fears about violence.
- Interacting and listening to peers.
- Benefits of collaborating with others to bring about change.
- How gossip can lead to greater conflicts.
- Myths and facts about gun violence.
- How gun violence affects communities.
- The difference between federal, state and local gun laws.
- The role of guns in suicide and domestic disputes.
- Suicide prevention and how to spot warning signs.
- Effective debating, public speaking and speech writing techniques.
- Researching and managing community resources.
- How to design, organize and participate in community projects.
- How to talk with and educate peers, community members and elected officials to advocate the prevention of gun violence.
We survey the reACTION students at the end of the school year, too. These surveys show important changes in student attitudes over the course of the year. Students completing the program:
- Recognize a gun does not protect them and in fact may cause harm and death to someone who carries one.
- Realize they can help prevent peers from obtaining and using guns and joining gangs.
- Understand they can impact peers and elected officials and make their communities safer by working towards change.
- Are knowledgeable about how illegal guns came into their communities and what could be done to change laws and policies on guns.
- Show more favorable views of the police, recognizing the police are in the community to help them.
- Are more likely to come forward as witnesses to crimes.
Students react to reACTION:
“This program is important because it teaches students to be positive community members, helps them know what’s right and wrong, and make the right decision when they get into a problem outside of school.”
–Jonathan, age 14
“I don’t think people in my community actual understand where guns are coming from. To know that my friends are dying because of the laws in other states makes me angry. We need to come together and realize there’s only one America”.
“Because of Reaction I now know the power of my words. I know they have strength; they can either get people to do something or allow people to do nothing depending on what I say”
-Shon London, age 17
Finally, students completing the reACTION program learn a wealth of personal development skills that will help them become responsible and productive citizens throughout their lives.
For more information on reACTION and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Education Fund programs, please visit: www.nyagvedfund.org.