Venting, and Sharing, the Fear : Forum enables San Fernando Valley students to talk about violence-generated anxiety

A forum held last weekend in the San Fernando Valley showed how deeply the fear of violence has intruded upon the lives of students--youngsters who should be concerned instead with matters such as grades and graduation. It also served as an example of what could be done, in a limited and carefully managed way, to assist the financially troubled Los Angeles Unified School District.

We start with the troubled students at the forum such as the Granada Hills High School senior who worried, "I could get shot anytime." Then there was a participant who had seen "people who get beat--shot too--just because of the clothes they wear." A third youth had lost track of the number of funerals he had attended.

They are hardly alone in their concerns, and even the youngest students are not immune. At the Beckford Avenue School in Northridge, for example, an 8-year-old recently confided: "It's scary. . . . Because I think that maybe someday I'll get killed or maybe some of my friends." A 10-year-old student at the same school recalled that a cousin had been shot.

Unfortunately, the district's ability to respond to crisis situations by providing routine counseling and lending a sympathetic ear will in the future be even more severely constrained than now. For the middle- and high-school grades, so-called supplemental counselors are available for individual and group counseling. But there is only one of these counselors for every 1,500 students in the junior high school years and just one for every 1,000 high school students. Cutbacks in these areas have already hit hard, and further reductions are likely. The LAUSD may lose 10% of its psychologists next year, an especially troubling prospect at a time when the school system is already stretched so thin that it cannot meet the needs of its students.

That is why events such as the forum, organized by the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, can be so useful. For an afternoon, at least, students aged 7 to 17 were able to express themselves freely and perhaps release a little tension. In the process, perhaps they even came to understand that there are others who care about them, and who also want to help.

It is important to note here that we are not suggesting that volunteers can somehow replace trained professionals lost through budget cuts. Still, as Loeb Aronin, head psychologist for the LAUSD, suggests: "Every child on campus should have an adult to relate to, just to have someone to kick things around with. These students have a need to talk about their concerns."

Aronin and others are trying to develop guidelines and give principals direction on how to use volunteers for this type of work. The students can certainly use the help, and the district badly needs the relief.

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