Stories tell kidsHONOWAI ELEMENTARY school sixth-graders Dayton Duff Domingo and Tasi Laumea were asked to point out what was special about each other.
to avoid violence
A pilot program uses
prosecutors and local
themes to prevent
By Crystal Kua
"You're a good listener," Dayton told his classmate.
"You're a good writer," Tasi replied.
The students had just finished reading a story about a boy named Louis whose family was going through hard times. A talented artist but troubled youth, Louis was not feeling good about himself when he led his friends to vandalize a school building.
"What are the possible consequences of Louis' actions?" Erika Ireland asked the boys' class.
"Go D.H.," one student replied, referring to the youth detention home.
"What would be a just and fair solution?" she asked again. "Pay," another student replied.
Ireland is a deputy prosecutor with the City Prosecutor's Office who has been in the Honowai classroom twice a week since May 8 as part of a four-week pilot program aimed at preventing violence in schools, the home and the community.
"There seems to be a national trend of escalating violence in the schools. Although Hawaii doesn't seem to have followed that trend so far, we want to try to prevent it as much as we can," said Ireland, who is part of the community prosecution unit. "I know one program can't solve all the problems but we want to do our bit."
Organizers were looking to start the program, which is called Prosecutors and Advocates for Violence Education or PAVE, in Waipahu because that area has the highest juvenile crime rate and is host to the Weed and Seed Program, another anti-crime program that involves the community.
Honowai Elementary's principal, Curtis Young, and sixth-grade teacher Sandra Capello were receptive to having the program brought into their school, Ireland said.
The program uses as its base a violence-prevention curriculum developed by Makaha Elementary School and the Kamehameha Schools.
"I was really excited about this (curriculum) because it was locally created. It gives all local examples. It's a story that the kids relate to. It's situational and then you expand on it."
THE STORIES COVER topics such as decision-making, consequences, positive ways to deal with anger and self control. They also look at topics such as domestic violence, substance abuse and criminal property damage.
"It's actually geared toward preventing all violence," Ireland said. "It's giving them the skills to deal with their anger, giving them coping skills, conflict-resolution, self control. It's really a skill-building thing that can help them in other parts of their life in primarily preventing violence."
Capello said the pressures her students will face in intermediate school will be overwhelming if they don't have the right skills, which the PAVE program is helping them obtain.
"It gives them the tools to cope with life's adversities, whether at home or at school," Capello said. "The stories hit home."
Ireland said PAVE complements other programs like the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (DARE) taught in the fifth grade and the gang awareness program taught in seventh grade.
Ireland said it was depressing for her to go into court on domestic violence cases and see the violent actions of adults trickle down to their children.
"The problem with the abuse is that we would see the cycle of violence with the kids, who were becoming violent and acting out," Ireland said. "It's great for me to be able to go in (the classroom) and try to talk to the kids and prevent this and let them know that they don't have to repeat the behavior."
IRELAND SAID THE HOPE of the program also is to bring prosecutors closer to the communities.
"We want to build a relationship with the schools," Ireland said. "(The students) only know us basically if they've had negative experiences with our office with their parents or their brother or sister. I think this will make prosecution more effective."
After assessing the effectiveness of the program, Ireland hopes that the PAVE program can be expanded to other schools in the fall.
"If even just two children out of the 30 students learn something and learn to control their anger or their behavior or even if we affect two people that don't go later and commit a crime -- that's the difference," she said.
And with at least one student in the classroom, the themes seem to be catching on. "You should never be angry at anybody, and (you should) try to do good." Duff Domingo said.