A lesson plan to go with “I wish the violence would stop” from the January-February 2009 issue of L.A. Youth, in which five teens describe the violence they’ve witnessed in their communities and suggest ways to make teens feel safer.

By Amanda Riddle, editor

Grades: 7-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Life Skills, Social Studies, Government
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

copies of the L.A. Youth article “I wish the violence would stop” (one per student)
pens and paper
white board or blackboard

Overview: Students will examine the violence in their communities and how it affects them, and suggest solutions for making their communities safer.
Unfortunately, violence is a part of everyday life for many teens in Los Angeles. While some recent news has been good—the numbers of murders and violent crimes are down—many young people still live with violence, whether it’s tagging crews or gangs marking their territory with graffiti, gang violence, racial fights or drug-related crime. When L.A. Youth asked its readers to tell us how violence affects them, we received hundreds of essays. When we asked our readers to fill out a survey on violence, we got more than 1,000 responses. Two-thirds of the teens who responded said they experience violence at least once a month. This showed that beyond the high-profile killings that make the headlines, many teens in Los Angeles face danger in their neighborhoods and schools, a problem that impacts how they view their lives and their hopes for their future.

Warm-up discussion:
Ask your students to describe the types of violence they’ve witnessed or experienced in their communities and write their answers on the board. They may say graffiti or tagging, fights at school, gangbanging or being jumped. How have they adjusted their behavior to stay safe? They may tell you they stay in a teacher’s classroom at lunch or don’t walk home after school or take a different route. Or they may admit they hang out with gang members because they are their friends or to keep them on their good side. Finally, ask them how all of the violence impacts them. They may tell you it makes them less hopeful about their future or angry or frustrated that the police or school administrators aren’t doing enough. They also may have been victims of violence.

Read the article “I wish the violence would stop,” which contains excerpts from a roundtable discussion on violence with five teens and a juvenile court judge, on pages 16-17.

Discussion questions:
These questions could be assigned as a reading comprehension exercise or used in a discussion.

What types of violence have the teens experienced?
• racial fights at school
• gangs in their neighborhoods
• getting jumped on the way to school
• hanging out with gang members
• being threatened with a gun

How did they stay safe?
• Britawnya stayed after school in her teacher’s classroom and took a different route home when fights broke out at school.
• Juan waits at school to get a ride home at night.

How do they feel their schools or the police have responded to the violence?
• Solange said her school has tried to kick out gang members.
• Britawnya said the police aren’t doing enough.

What do they think would help reduce violence?
• more after-school programs
• teachers reaching out to and listening to students
• making education a priority
• more adults who care

Have a brief discussion. Ask your students what they could relate to about the five teens’ experiences. Then ask them what they think could help reduce violence in their communities. Do they agree or disagree with the five teens’ suggestions? After the discussion, ask students to write a letter to a government official or school administrator about their personal experiences. They should describe the violence they have witnessed and explain how it has affected them. Then they should offer their suggestions for ways to reduce violence and help teens feel safer.

Extension activity:
Have your students mail their letters, encouraging them to have their voices heard, like the teens who participated in the discussion. They may have decided to write to a local official such as the mayor, a city council member, a county supervisor or a state legislator. Or they could write to a school administrator such as a dean, principal or school superintendent.