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New Study Finds that School-Based Intervention Programs Successful in Violence Prevention

A new curriculum appears to be effective in determining whether middle schools students will avoid using violence as a means to resolve their problems, according to a study published in the May edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"The students who received the 13-session Peaceful Conflict Resolution and Violence Prevention curriculum reported a decrease in their use of violence from pretest to posttest," said Robert H. DuRant, professor and vice chair for health services research for the department of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "Most of these students'' behavioral changes were due to reductions in the frequency in carrying a concealed firearm and in fighting."

The study used the program, called the Peaceful Conflict Resolution and Violence Prevention Curriculum, to evaluate more than 700 middle school students in Augusta, Georgia, living in or around public housing.

"The skills necessary to resolve interpersonal conflict are learned during early childhood, but the mastering of these skills often occurs during adolescence," DuRant said.

"Many adolescents in the country live in social environments where they are exposed to high levels of violence and victimization," he said. "When exposure to violence in the home, the community and the media is combined with a lack of modeling conflict resolution skills within the family, many youth do not learn the skills or perceive the need to avoid the use of violence."

The Peaceful Conflict Resolution and Violence Prevention Curriculum is a 13-module, skills-building curriculum based on Social Cognitive Theory. It teaches identification of situations that could result in violence; avoidance, confrontation, problem-solving, and communication skills; conflict resolution skills; the conflict cycle; the dynamics of a fight and how to express anger without fighting to selected students, according to DuRant.

DuRant and other researchers selected two other middle schools in Augusta, Georgia as the group to be taught the curriculum and two middle schools in Richmond County, Georgia as a control group. The control schools were selected in another area of the county to reduce the possibility of interaction among the students during out-of-school hours.

Two weeks before the intervention, sixth-grade students in the four schools were administered a pretest questionnaire. The Peaceful Conflict and Violence Prevention Curriculum was taught in health education classes, once a week for 13 weeks. Approximately two weeks after the intervention ended, a posttest questionnaire was administered, DuRant said.

At the pretest, the groups did not differ in age, symptoms of depression, the probability that they thought they would live to be age 25 or exposure to violence in the previous three months or during their life.

"However, there was an increase in the control group''s use of violence," he added.

"The curriculum was found to have modest positive effects on observed aggressive physical acts and pro-social behavior six months after the curriculum was implemented."

"The teachers and school administrators reported that the curriculum appeared to change the social norm of what are considered ''acceptable'' behaviors in the schools," DuRant said.

DuRant says this study, combined with findings of previous studies, provides support for the integration of violence prevention and conflict resolution curricula into health education curricula during early adolescence.

"Although school-based violence prevention interventions will not solve the problem of youth violence in this country, they can be one component of a comprehensive, community-wide effort to reduce the use of violence by children and adolescents," DuRant said.

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