There is an absolute crisis of violence across our country. In Baltimore, over the past five years, one in eight shooting victims taken to hospitals in our region has been a child between the ages of 10 and 19. 

How violence affects our communities and schools is a critical issue for all educators. What can schools do to address the violence? Are we equipping our children with the conflict management skills they need now and in the future?

At the Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP), we know that creating change and improving K-12 public school education only happens through a commitment to facing problems head-on and sustained implementation of best practices in all areas of the work .  

Examining problems and best practices has been the goal of our Leading Minds: Challenging Conversations in Public Education symposium since we launched the event in 2008. For the annual event, we invite local and national experts to discuss current challenges affecting Baltimore City students. Our goal is to address critical issues in public school education through collaboration and innovative thinking. The Leading Minds program follows a morning of professional development for all teachers and staff at our six Baltimore City neighborhood charter schools. 

The School’s Role in Curbing Community Violence

In determining a topic for our January 23, 2023 Leading Minds event, which was held at Morgan State University and marked BCP’s return to an in-person symposium, we knew that we wanted to talk about something of high interest and that applies to everyone in our schools. Offering useful take-aways for our audience of front-line educators was very important. We quickly landed on the issue of community violence and the role of the school in this issue.

Our panel of experts presented a riveting and very informative look at the historical and social reasons for Baltimore’s community violence, reasons why people respond with violence, and how BCP educators are teaching conflict management skills. Thank you to each of these amazing presenters!

Leading Minds panel

Leading Minds Take-aways: Conflict Resolution Skills and Safe Spaces

The biggest takeaway for me was how essential conflict resolution is to help to prevent violence. Erricka Bridgeford addressed this in her presentation about connecting the dots to the root causes of violence presented by Dr. Edwards. Some of the causes include flawed policies, lack of progression policies, poverty, hyper-segregation, and lack of opportunities. 

Knowing how Baltimore got here is vital, as is knowing where we need and want to go. “What is the world I want to see?” Erricka asked. “That’s where I start. You can’t get to a better Baltimore without loving the Baltimore you already have.” 

She explained that society teaches us – and our children at a very early age – that the more violent you are in conflict, the bigger winner you are. Nurturing and giving people practice at conflict resolution skills, though, is truly how we help people win when it comes to addressing community violence. 

Equally important is providing safe spaces for people, which is my second takeaway from the symposium: Giving kids safe spaces to talk to adults and have someone reach out to them and be there for them. Our BCP teachers, principals, and staff do this every day, in big “teachable” moments and in small, quiet conversations. It’s all about the relationship and trust between an educator and the student. Our students need to know that they can come to a teacher or staff member with any issue and that the adult will handle their vulnerability, fear, and concerns with grace, kindness, and love. 

BCP educator Anthony Patterson spoke about controlling what you can control at your school. How are you ensuring that your school is working to combat systematic and institutionalized racism? Do you have a classroom that shows love and provides alternative, flexible options to address conflict? How are you making a positive impact every day? A perspective shift, he said, is critical to creating a safe space. “I am teaching humans, not subjects – life skills, not topics,” he explained. 

Perhaps the biggest, most resonant remarks from the symposium were when our BCP Scholar from City Springs, E’Ryan Benefield, shared his authentic story about how students feel when they witness violent situations in their communities. He explained that the presence of violence makes students feel stressed and out of place. Kids aren’t prepared for learning if that is how they are coming to class.

Role modeling matters to kids. E’Ryan said that seeing parents arguing loudly with the school’s front office makes kids wonder if that is how they are supposed to act to solve conflicts. 

Shantay Jackson wrapped up the symposium with statistics about violence in Baltimore and our nation and its impact on our children:

She underscored the need for school-based violence intervention programs that provide students with the tools they need to resolve conflict. We can’t remove conflict from our schools and communities – conflict is a natural part of our lives – but we can learn to manage it in a healthy way, focused on positive outcomes that disrupt and prevent violence.

BCP and Restorative Practices for Conflict Resolution

Restorative practices – intentional strategies that build on open, respectful communication to reduce conflict and repair harm – have been at the heart of our school culture since 2007. With grants from OSI-Baltimore and the Goldsmith Family Foundation, we implemented the practice in our schools and were the first schools in Maryland to use Restorative Practices. 

BCP classes begin each day with a circle, a time when students and teachers come together to talk about conflict, address concerns, offer words of praise, thanks, or apology, etc. Anyone in a BCP school – child, teacher, parent – may ask for a circle. 

Yes, it’s a constructive alternative to suspensions, but Restorative Practices is much more. It’s how we hold each other accountable for our actions, and how we build a community grounded in cooperation and mutual respect. 

It’s a model for all schools in Maryland. BCP founder and noted educator Muriel Berkeley, served on the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners when she retired from BCP in 2012. She championed Restorative Practices with City Schools, and today it is mandated to be used in all Baltimore City Public Schools and public schools across the state. 

Read more on Restorative Practices at the International Institute for Restorative Practices

Read WYPR’s coverage of the 2023 Leading Minds event.

Watch the video of the full Leading Minds program.

About our panelists:

Dr. Edwards

Dr. Lorece V. Edwards

  • Director of the Center for Sexual Health Advancement and Prevention Education (SHAPE) 
  • Professor, Public Health in the Department of Behavioral Health Sciences, Morgan State
  • University’s School of Community Health and Policy
  • Presents and publishes on health equity, adolescence/emerging adults health, community violence, structural and social determinants of health, historical trauma, risk research, and HIV prevention studies
  • Currently writing Survivornomics: The Economics of Black Resilience
Shantay Jackson

Shantay Jackson

  • Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement
  • Spent 20 years in the private sector as the Assistant Vice President of Global
  • Business Solutions & Technology at T. Rowe Price Associates and a Principal at
  • Brown Advisory.
  • Former Executive Director, Baltimore Community Mediation Center and Community Engagement Liaison for the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Consent Decree
  • Board memberships include Baltimore’s Trauma-Informed Care Task Force, the Justice Reinvestment Commission, and the Public Safety Policy Lab
Dr. Edwards

Anthony Patterson

  • City Springs Elementary/Middle School educator since 2015
  • City Springs Director of Equity and Anti-racism since 2020, the first such BCP position 
  • Leads BCP professional development efforts on how to be anti-racist educators
Errika Bridgeford

Erricka Bridgeford

  • Mediator, co-founder, Baltimore Peace Movement (formerly Baltimore Ceasefire 365)
  • Executive Director, Baltimore Community Mediation Center
  • Speaker, Social Activist, Legislative Advocate who helped to pass Maryland House Bill 0355 (Programs for Survivors of Homicide Victims)

About the Baltimore Curriculum Project

Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP) is the largest operator of local neighborhood, public charter schools in Maryland. We create safe, supportive learning environments for children PK-8 by providing innovative, research-based educational strategies, intensive teacher training and extensive support for administration and staff. We support our local neighborhood needs by tailoring our resources and support through community partnerships.

As one of the longest-running charter operators in Maryland, our schools are regularly recognized as some of the most highly acclaimed neighborhood charter schools in the state. 

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BALTIMORE CURRICULUM PROJECT
2707 E. Fayette Street
Baltimore, MD 21224
410-675-7000
Fax: 410-675-7030
bcpinfo@baltimorecp.org

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