Thursday, April 12, 2001

School activities address unrest




By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The morning after a riot pummeled Over-the-Rhine, Judy Szilagyi and her students at St. Margaret of Cortona in Madisonville held a mini-pep rally for peace.

        “We are peacemakers,” Mrs. Szilagyi called into the bullhorn she uses every morning to get 120 children fired up for school.

        “We know the process. We know the skills. We can put out a prayer and energy to the city of Cincinnati so they can be peacemakers.”

        The principal's words were followed by a cheer from the student body, which is half white and half African-American.

        The discussions were sparked by the shooting death Saturday of Timothy Thomas, 19, by Cincinnati Police Officer Steve Roach. The shooting is being investigated by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office and the FBI for possible civil rights violations.

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        Throughout the Tristate on Wednesday, schools turned the riot into a teachable moment about conflict resolution, fact-finding and staying safe.

        In Brad Bell's English class at Indian Hill Middle School, the riot came up as sixth-graders presented their projects on discrimination.

        “They knew that, in order to be safe, you didn't want to go where the news was reporting this violence was going on,” Mr. Bell said.

        Whenever there's a hot topic, Mr. Bell said he tries to foster an open discussion of both sides of the issue.

        “This is what we're hearing from the African-American community,” Mr. Bell told his students. “What about the side of the city, and what about the side of the police? If this young man looked like he was going to pull a weapon, how would you feel if you were in that situation? How would you respond?”

        Lincoln Butts, a Mount Healthy South Middle School social studies teacher, said students initially brought up the subject.

        “I'm just telling them all the information I know and getting them to draw their own conclusions. We talked about the shooting, who's doing what, the age of the kids getting arrested.“

        St. Margaret students have spent this year learning conflict resolution through the Center for Peace Education, a non-profit group that teaches people of all ages, cultures and viewpoints to deal peacefully with conflicts and differences. Teachers and students talked about the riot in the context of what they've learned.

        “We don't try to resolve conflicts when people are angry,” Mrs. Szilagyi said.

        The students have questions, too. They wonder why Mr. Thomas, who was fatally shot by a police officer Saturday, didn't follow a police officer's orders to halt.

        “I think there's a sense that we don't have all the information,” Mrs. Szilagyi said. “They know there are probably issues on both sides, or it wouldn't be a conflict.”

        Because Cincinnati Public Schools and many other districts are on spring break this week, the job of calming children's fears about the riot is left to parents.

        “You don't need to give them more information than they're asking for,” said Vicki Carr, director of the Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center at the University of Cincinnati.

        “It's really important to keep your comments objective, not to stereotype police, not to stereotype the rioters or any racial groups,” she said.

       



Violence worsens, spreads
Grand jury will probe shooting
NAACP's Mfume, city leaders meet today
Citizens terrorized by violence
Some business owners, residents felt targeted
Luken offers support to damaged areas
Ministers rally, then walk the streets
Panel's view: What should the city do next?
PULFER: Refusing to give up on the city
Residents try to comprehend destruction
Violence a sign of unsolved problems
Arrests mostly of young males
Bengal Basnight wants to help stop violence
Reds urge end to violence
Parker: Problems have better solutions
Image worries downtown merchants
- School activities address unrest