UB's VISA Center helps students who have been suspended return to their classroom
The School of Social Work has entered into an agreement with the Buffalo Public Schools to provide specialized group treatment and violence-prevention programs to help students who have been suspended return to their regular classrooms.
The VISA Center (Vision-Integrity-Strategy-Accountability) builds on eight years of research, assessment of and intervention into the causes of and solutions to disruptive and at times violent behavior in the classroom. It is part of a project of the recently established UB Center for the Study and Prevention of School Violence, headed by Lawrence Shulman, professor of social work.
Practical solutions for student success
The VISA Center is housed in Buffalo's new Academy School @ 44, which opened in September 2006 to serve students with social, emotional or educational difficulties that prevent them from succeeding in their regular classrooms.
“Young people cannot learn in environments that are violent and feel out of control.”
Nancy J. Smyth,
dean of the School of Social Work
The center, a collaboration between the school and UB, with funding from the Buffalo Board of Education, offers a daily program to students who have been recommended by teachers and referred by the school principal because of behavioral problems in their classes. Students referred to the center receive, in addition to their regular academic work provided by an Academy School @ 44 teacher, structured individual and group treatment programs that include instruction in conflict resolution, anger management, self-esteem, and other personal issues that prevent the student from succeeding in the classroom. Individual and family counseling or referrals to community agencies also are provided, where appropriate.
The VISA Center is staffed by a violence-prevention specialist and master of social work group therapist. In addition, graduate students in the School of Social Work will be placed as interns in the school in the fall to assist with student treatment and counseling. Prior to being admitted to the VISA Center, both students and parents or guardians meet with the VISA staff to discuss the program as part of an intake process that identifies student problems and strengths and to set goals to be achieved.
The center also offers to all students attending Academy School @ 44 conflict mediation services to help them develop skills to resolve problems with their peers without resorting to violence. The violence-prevention specialist also gives in-class lessons focusing on such topics as anti-bullying and bystander behavior, which often contributes to escalating conflicts into violent altercations.
UB’s commitment to families and communities
The work being conducted by the UB Center for the Study and Prevention of School Violence as implemented in the VISA Center is central to the mission of the university and, in particular, its commitment to K-16 education and community involvement outlined in the UB 2020 strategic master plan.
“This is just the first step in addressing a problem that is larger than any one school or school district and involves many complex issues.”
professor of social work
"This center is a vital part of the civic engagement strategic strength that is part of UB 2020," said Nancy J. Smyth, dean of the School of Social Work. "The center's success will be critical to the success of UB's K-16 educational initiative—young people cannot learn in environments that are violent and feel out of control. Young people who are acting out violently are sending us a message that they and their families and communities need help."
Building upon eight years of success
The VISA Center at Academy School @ 44 builds on several successful programs of collaborative approaches to community- and school-violence prevention and remediation that the School of Social Work has developed over the past eight years.
Those programs include:
- The New York State Extended School Day School Violence Prevention Program offered in collaboration with Erie County Child and Family Services and the United Way "Closing the Gap" project in the Harvey Austin Middle School, a project designed to build self-esteem, reduce classroom conflicts and assist students academically.
- The original VISA Center, a city-wide assessment and intervention program established on the South Campus to serve students in grades 6-11 after they had been suspended from school, where they and their families received intensive services in violence prevention, conflict resolution, mentoring, counseling, and classroom instruction.
- The Kensington Community Project, which brought together the resources of the School of Social Work, the Buffalo Public Housing Authority and the Buffalo Public Schools to provide a coordinated approach to school and community violence involving the criminal justice and school systems, as well as social services and job-training agencies.
"Schools do not exist in a vacuum," said Shulman. "Many of the in-school conflicts are related to community, family, and economic issues. In more than eight years of work and research on these issues, we have found that this behavior on the part of students is sending a message about issues such as abuse, drug addiction, gang-related conflicts, absent or abusive parents, or a pervasive sense of hopelessness about their futures."
In addition to the prevention and intervention services it provides, the Center for the Study and Prevention of School Violence has as part of its mission and goal to work with the community to strengthen collaboration between UB faculty members, the Buffalo Public Schools, parents, social service agencies, faith-based organizations, the criminal justice system, and other organizations to address the interface between school and community violence.
"This is just the first step in addressing a problem that is larger than any one school or school district and involves many complex issues," said Shulman. "Disruptive students have an impact on all students in a school interfering with the teaching-learning process. It is all too easy to blame schools and teachers, who are often struggling to provide a good education with reduced resources, while dealing with what are essentially community and family issues. The recent budget put forth by our new governor is a hopeful sign that we will be providing the support or school needed to address these problems. We hope that with additional support, the UB center will be able to expand and serve students and families in other communities as well."
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt noted: "I am excited about this initiative, which will bring to bear the collective knowledge and expertise of UB faculty and students on a problem that is deeply troubling to our community.
"School violence is an issue that is of great concern to me, and one that must be successfully addressed if we hope to give our children the resources they need to succeed," Hoyt added. "Our children who want to learn deserve an environment that is free of violence and disruption. A safe environment promotes learning and is good for the students and school personnel alike, and I applaud UB's initiative on partnering with the community to address this most important issue."