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U Illinois, U Oregon Team with Private Partner To Target Student Violence

A pair of universities and a behavioral research and development firm will be working together on a five-year project to reduce high school violence. The Universities of Illinois and Oregon are joining forces with Oregon-based IRIS Educational Media to create a new school safety intervention program.

"Project SOAR" (Student Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility) recently received $5.6 million from the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice to explore the use of mobile apps to prod high schoolers to get involved in keeping their school environments safe.

The idea is to help school leaders recognize student victimization as reported by students who see it happening before it gets to the point where the victims act out in a desire for revenge. The project will encompass several aspects: Web- and mobile-based school safety and behavioral assessments to be taken by students, parents and teachers; a tip line with training for students; and online training on team-based, restorative problem solving for teachers.

Student buy-in for the program is essential, said researcher Dorothy Espelage, an educational psychologist at U Illinois. "Scholars have argued for greater involvement of youths working closely with school staff to promote restorative practices and to consider how technology can promote school safety," she explained in a statement about the program. "To this aim, Project SOAR takes a comprehensive approach to school safety in local high schools through working with youths to give them a voice in developing the project's components."

The program will be tested out in Springfield Public Schools in Oregon and Danville School District No. 118 in Illinois.

After a year of research among students and school personnel to assess their needs, the team of researchers will create and test prototypes of the SOAR components and collect data at schools implementing the program and others that don't. A "behavior support team" at each school will coordinate the deployment and review tip-line data monthly. When behaviors of concern are reported, the teams will work with selected students to run "restorative justice interventions" that use dialog, understanding and cooperative problem-solving among the affected parties.

Final testing of the developed program will run with 4,000 students in both districts starting in 2019.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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