By EMAUN KASHFIPOUR
TEMPLE HILLS, Md. (September 14, 2011)—Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and the United Way of the National Capital Area on Tuesday announced $100,000 in funding for a one-year pilot program designed to combat gang violence at two Prince George's County schools.
The state of Maryland and the United Way of the National Capital Area each contributed $50,000 to the initiative called "Way to P.E.A.C.E (prevention, education, awareness, connection, and empowerment)."
"That's a small investment in what I think will be a big return for our students, for our communities," said Brown, speaking at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School.
Way to P.E.A.C.E will be tested at two middle schools, Benjamin Stoddert and Thurgood Marshall. The schools are considered two of the lowest performing schools in the southern part of the county and have a high incidence of gang activity, said state officials.
Benjamin Stoddert has had many changes in the past few years.
"It is a turnaround school," said Brown. "We brought in two years ago an entirely new administration, an entirely new cadre of educators. So this is a great place to start."
The initiative will focus on more than just the two schools. Youth, religious and media organizations that produce videos related to youth issues have become partners in the program. The sponsors hope to draw on the experience of these groups to add to the program.
"United Way does not know the solutions," said Bill Hanbury, president of the United Way of the National Capital Area. "These community partners know the solutions. This grant is going to enable these organizations to continue the great work that they are already doing in these areas and allow it to be expanded to reach more areas."
If the program does well during its first year, the state might consider extending it to other schools across the county.
"We're going to monitor it, we're going to evaluate it," Brown said. "Once we prove that this program is effective, then the goal is to introduce this to communities not only in the county but the entire state of Maryland."
The county has 1,800 members representing 250 gang-related groups, according to a Prince George's County Youth and Gang Violence Task Force report.
"It pulls kids out of school. It takes them away from a positive, productive, environment in which to develop themselves," said Brown. "And, unfortunately, it gets them involved in criminal misconduct and drug related activities."
Another goal of Way to P.E.A.C.E is to create a safe, sustainable environment for youth.
"Teen violence and bullying is really a big deterrent to success for children. It's a deterrent to academic success. It's a deterrent to kids just living a happy secure life, which everybody has a right to in this country," Hanbury said. "We want to make sure kids are feeling good in their environments and they can be more productive in their schools and in society."