A student from an Anne Arundel County high school said she's seen guns on campus. A Howard County girl said squabbles that start as Internet exchanges lead to fights at school. And a senior at a Baltimore school told of fights that are part of gang initiations.
One of the main messages from students across Maryland who gathered yesterday at a summit on school violence is that the issue cannot be ignored.
"We have so many problems in our school system that we don't think about," said Josh Maley, 16, a junior at Howard High in Ellicott City. "We overlook so much. This summit is good because it lets [adults] hear their stories."
The event drew more than 250 students from middle and high schools to Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt to talk about school safety. Every jurisdiction in the state was represented, and organizers said they hope to use the students' observations and ideas to craft plans to stem violence.
"We need to hear what you have to say," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore told the students shortly before they broke into group discussions. "We need to hear your problems and your solutions. Please do not hold your tongues."
The idea for the summit, organized by Cummings and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, came out of a similar meeting that followed several high-profile incidents last year involving violence in schools. They included the beating of a Baltimore teacher that became national news after it was recorded on a student's cell phone and posted on the Internet.
The first summit, held in June, brought together legislators, teachers, school board members, community leaders, parents and students. Yesterday, the focus was solely on the youth perspective.
Many of the ideas offered at the six-hour meeting will be shared with a school safety advisory committee, Grasmick said. Participants in yesterday's event will be asked to fill out a survey in January, with the results to be analyzed in the spring at a regional conference put on by the State Department of Education.
"It is only through these solutions that we can change the circumstances," Grasmick said.
Students spent the day listening to several speakers, including Grasmick, Cummings and LaMarr Shields of the Urban Leadership Institute.
The participants discussed the causes of violence and the role of victims and perpetrators. Each student signed a manifesto pledging to develop solutions and stand up against school violence.
Joshua Thaniel, 14, a seventh-grader at Rising Star Academy in Baltimore, said he came to the summit eager to put solutions into action.
"Young people can all make a difference," he said. "We're not all gangbangers. I want to show that we are more than what we seem to be."
Sharde Richardson, an 18-year-old senior at New Era Academy in Baltimore, said she learned that many of the school safety problems associated with inner-city schools also exist in the suburbs.
"Everyone needs to take time out to listen," she said.
Ashley P. Green, a 16-year-old junior at Wilde Lake High in Columbia, said she learned that school violence is discussed less in the suburbs even though it occurs.
"They don't listen to the students," she said of parents and teachers. "In our county, they think that nothing bad will happen."
Adejire Bademosi, a 16-year-old junior at Marriotts Ridge High in Howard County, said different solutions must be crafted for different schools and situations.
"It can't be one size fits all," said Bademosi, who serves as the student member of the county school board. "It's apparent in all of education."
Salena Long, a 17-year-old senior at Maritime Academy in Baltimore, said she was invigorated by the discussion. The senior class president said she planned to return to her school and organize a meeting so she can share ideas with parents. She said she also plans to meet with students.
"I see that [violence] is starting to increase," she said. "I want to put a cap on it before it gets out of control."
The text of the manifesto signed by students at yesterday's summit on school violence:
"We, as representatives of the great state of Maryland, accept special roles and responsibilities to ensure that our schools are free of violence. We are dedicated to encourage nonviolent solutions and to promote respect for all individuals."