The statistics are alarming: Violence, and especially teenage violence, has reached epidemic proportions. A 1995 article in Parade Magazine reported that "Someone in the United States is murdered, raped, assaulted or robbed every 16 seconds. Increasingly, these incidents are likely to involve teenagers and children."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now consider violence a leading public health issue, to be treated like an epidemic. The Centers reported that gunshot wounds are second only to car accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 24. Firearm homicide is the number one cause of death for black men between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The public schools in Florida's Duval County (Jacksonville) have seen their share of violence among its students. The Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. (JCCI) noted in its 1994 study, "Reducing Violence in Jacksonville's Schools," that youth violence had increased 85% in the last eight years and that "the system lacks a comprehensive strategy to reduce school violence, including defined goals, committed funds and adequate evaluation." Key recommendations in the study included:
* The development of a violence prevention/conflict resolution curriculum,
* Parent involvement, and
* Community involvement/awareness.
This article explains how a regional, community-corporate partnership, the North Florida Distance Learning Consortium addressed the recommendations identified in the JCCI study through an innovative distance learning project on conflict resolution for middle school students.
A Consortium Approach to Distance Learning
The North Florida Distance Learning Consortium, a unique blend of public-private organizations, was formed in late 1993 to find ways for its member institutions to collaborate and to share their distance learning resources to improve educational delivery.
Members include representatives of four local school districts (Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties); the Diocese of St. Augustine, a parochial school district; three higher education institutions (Florida Community College at Jacksonville [FCCJ], Edward Waters College [EWC] and the University of North Florida [UNF]); the local cable company and its subsidiary (Continental Cablevision and AlterNet); BellSouth, a telecommunications service provider; WJCT-Channel 7, the local public broadcasting station; and Cities in Schools, a national drop-out prevention program.
Consortium members met frequently in 1994 and were mobilized into action when news of a State University System (SUS) grant opportunity for distance learning demonstration projects became known. Having already identified the problem of youth violence in local schools, the consortium was challenged by the SUS proposal to meet the following 12 criteria:
1. Demonstrate the benefits of distance education from the perspectives of learning, teaching, program administration, resource development and cost effectiveness; 2. Result in increased access, improved and measurable productivity, economies of scale and positive return on investment; 3. Develop an integrated learning package to be delivered through distance learning; 4. Demonstrate how distance learning can be cost effectively used to address significant documentable statewide issues and opportunities; 5. Involve collaboration of at least two of the three major sectors of education: the university system, the community college system and the K-12 system; 6. Target a specific population or populations that can best be served through an instructional delivery system that represents an alternative to traditional classroom instruction; 7. Be learner-centered as opposed to faculty or institution-centered; 8. Employ a variety of responsive and appropriate distance learning delivery mechanisms using existing statewide telecommunications networks, infrastructures or services; 9. …