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Pittsburgh City Council votes to expand school anti-violence program | #schoolsaftey

Pittsburgh City Council voted Wednesday to fund a $2.1 million series of peer-led violence prevention programs at several local high schools.

The Safe Passages program will employ up to 80 students between Allderdice, Westinghouse, Perry and Carrick high schools. Each “junior safety ambassador” will receive a stipend to serve as a mediator among their peers and participate in anti-violence initiatives.

Earlier this spring, the city and Operation Better Block accepted a $2.5 million grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to expand the program.

Of that, $2.1 million is budgeted for the city’s contract with the nonprofit to establish the program at the high schools, as well as John Morrow Elementary School. The remaining approximately $400,000 will be used to support two positions in the Department of Public Safety.

Council members unanimously passed the measure to formally allocate those funds to the program, although some still voiced concerns that the program — like others that the council has passed to combat violence citywide — won’t be immediately effective.

“I’m concerned about the money we’re spending on stopping the violence and not seeing exactly all the results we want,” Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said Wednesday. “I know there are groups and people out there doing really good work. I just think we have to make sure we’re monitoring this and that we’re getting at least some positive results for the community.”

In a committee meeting last week, Lisa Frank, the city’s chief operating and administrative officer, said — once the program is rolled out in each of the four high schools this upcoming school year — officials will monitor whether its presence reduces the number of fights, as well as the number of students participating when conflict does occur.

Frank said in the year since Safe Passages began a pilot at Perry High School last year, attendance rates have also doubled.

The program sets aside $288,000 in stipends for the student ambassadors, who will work under the supervision of several full-time staff members hired by the program.

David Jones with the city’s Department of Public Safety told council members the agency will work to fill those roles with trusted community leaders, many of whom will be based in each participating school.

Councilwoman Erika Strassburger said she hopes the program not only helps build trust within each community, but also, if successful, reduces the need to fund security services in schools

“If there’s less of a need for the hardened security that we think of, then that money can be allocated to the after-school robotics club that can go on the field trip, or whatever,” she said.

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