by Crystal Carter
Sharolyn Bautista, former student leader and organizer in the Peer Resources class, knows that the absence of this program is negative for the future students who could have benefitted from the lessons that the class provided. Not only did she use what she learned in class but also outside of school with her friends and family.
“The program was a place for us to connect regardless of race,” she said. “Communication is key and it’s better than being violent. I wish everyone would be exposed to this program because it would only make them better.”
San Francisco Peer Resources (Peers) is a program created in partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District and the San Francisco Education Fund, devoted to creating capable youth leaders who can be effective allies to their peers. It is a service that is extended to other schools in San Francisco as well.
Conflict mediators help their peers resolve disputes peacefully. Youth are also trained in conflict management and learn how to help their peers talk through and resolve conflicts before they escalate into physical violence. Peers is also geared to giving students leadership roles and preparing them for college and higher education.
After students and teachers found out that this class was to be cut they decided to come together. But a firm set of limits was placed on the concerned teachers and students when they decided to raise money to save the program.
Conflict mediators help their peers resolve disputes peacefully, to talk through and resolve conflicts before they escalate into physical violence. Peers is also geared to giving students leadership roles and preparing them for college.
Resident and poet mentor, Kirya Traber, 23, who spent a few months working with the students of TMAHS, remembers asking the students how they felt about “not being supported by their administrators.” She said that “by the end of the seventh period, not only had they drafted a letter to the principal, but they also made initial plans for a sit down meeting, a leafleting campaign and a potential protest.”
After the first meeting that included the principal of TMAHS, Guillermo Morales, in agreement with the executive director of the San Francisco Education Fund, Hugh Vasquez, a list of rules and guidelines were put into play.
“I apologize for and accept responsibility for any miscommunication that left other possibilities open and contributed to any confusion,” stated Brian Stanley, director of the Peer Resources program for all of the San Francisco Unified School District.
And since the statewide student, parent and teacher strikes that took place in opposition to the cuts at the beginning of the spring semester of 2008, there are still demands that have yet to be addressed. Amidst the $4.8 billion budget cut to education in the state of California last year, TMAHS is the only school that had its Peers program cut.
“The principal said if we could provide the funds for the coordinator position we could have the program,” said Mica Valdez, 33, former coordinator of the Peer Resource Center at TMAHS. “But then (Brian Stanley) changed his mind at the last minute. I was really let down and so were my students.”
A total of $79,542, roughly a teacher’s salary, had to be raised in order for TMAHS’ Peer Resource program to continue into the fall 2008 semester. How this figure was accounted for is questionable because, according to Peers, the school pays for half of the teacher’s salary and the San Francisco Education Fund pays for the other.
“There’s always a plan,” she said when referring to the policy of the school officials. “It’s not that we do not have the money. It’s just that we are not spending it right.”
One of the guidelines that was placed on the fundraiser stated, “All funds raised for Peer Resources must be (a) submitted to the San Francisco Education Fund and (b) must identify the San Francisco Education Fund as the fiscal agent.” In other words, it was not guaranteed that the money would go towards the preservation of their class.
“I am donating because I had a conflict mediation this year,” said Dominique Crutchfield, 18, TMAHS graduating senior, before the effort to raise money was stopped. “I was about to get in a fight with this Asian kid, but then Peer Resources helped me. So I know it’s a good program.”
On Sept. 15, 2007, during physical education class, a rubber ball hit a young girl and the teacher immediately blamed a student who was known as a troublemaker. He was sent to the office. Distraught at being wrongfully accused, the student did not want to speak to the dean or the principal.
“It is standard protocol to use resources such as Peer Resources and other mediation before bringing in the police,” said Valdez.
When the principal confronted the child in the hallway, the student said, “Back away! I do not want you to come near me because I am afraid of what I might do.” Disregarding the child’s wishes, the principal approached the child to grab him and the child pushed back and ran off the campus. Instead of notifying the parents, the principal called the police and the child was charged with assault.
Marcus Hicks, 17, who is a student conflict mediator and works to racially integrate students, says that some adults make the youth feel “jumpy.” Students think if they go to an adult, they’ll get in trouble. But when it’s peer-to-peer, students feel at ease and more willing to talk about whatever their problem is, he said.
TMAHS is in the Bayview District and mostly caters to African-American, Latino and Polynesian youth. Due to the socio-economic disadvantages of living in this area, this school relies on additional resources to support students with special needs.
“Many schools are going to suffer next year and there will likely be higher dropout rates and incarceration of youth of color,” said Valdez. “Equity and a child’s right to a good education is what is at stake here.”
The U.S. prison and jail population has reached a record high exceeding 2.3 million people, according to a new report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Rodney Robinson, 32, has been a mentor to incarcerated youth at the Youth Guidance Center in San Francisco since 2000. He believes that the only way to make a positive effect is to connect with the community.
“Teachers need to get involved in the students’ life not just at school but doing home visits as well,” he said. “You’d be amazed by how much the child appreciates that.”
Robinson went on to state that from his experience with the youth, he has realized their need to vent their frustrations to a trusting ear is imperative.
Mica Valdez, who is now pursuing graduate work, gave students statistics about the rate of young people of color who are currently being incarcerated. She made it a point for students at TMAHS to connect what they were learning in class and to understand it by connecting it back into the neighborhood in hopes that their ideas will make a difference.
“How are disenfranchised youth to compete in a global market if they are not given access to the educational tools that will allow them opportunities to be successful?” she asked.
Peer Resources Director Brian Stanley stated that the school anticipates rebuilding the program in either 2009 or 2010. While there are still Peer Resource programs at Martin Luther King Middle School and Willie Brown Academy in the Bayview, there has been no notice as of now when the program will be re-implemented at TMAHS.
“The faculty has not shown that they care about getting the program back,” said Hicks. “Some students took the program for granted and the teachers failed to realize that this program meant a lot to us.”
If you are interested in contributing to getting Peers back in Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, please contact Peers directly at (415) 920-5211.
Crystal N. Carter, a 2008 graduate of San Francisco State University, is a member of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association (BABJA). She writes for ColorLines Magazine and can be reached at email@example.com.