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Newark Community Street Team awarded $1 million federal grant to support school safety

A man wearing a hoodie stares into the camera.

As the school day comes to an end at Malcolm Shabazz High School, Jamar Flowers, 32, a member of the Newark Community Street Team’s Safe Passage program, waits for students to make their way outside to accompany them home in the South Ward neighborhood of Newark in December.

José A. Alvarado Jr. for Chalkbeat

The Department of Justice awarded $1 million this week to the Newark Community Street Team (NCST) to continue its prevention work in schools. The award is part of a federal initiative to prevent school violence in K-12 schools.

The NCST will partner with the Newark Opportunity Youth Network (NOYN) to hire and deploy a team of interventionists to support student mental health and identify at-risk students at its LEAD Charter School, an alternative high school for students who had previously dropped out of high school, ​​often amid turmoil outside of school. 

The funding is part of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s initiative to support the work of county and local organizations in reducing violent crime in and around schools. The nonprofits are among 82 award recipients that received nearly $87 million in combined federal funds to support school and student safety.

“When you invest on the front end of things, you prevent negative outcomes,” said Daniel Croson, chief of staff for the Newark Opportunity Youth Network. “We’re providing help for students to make sure they are supported as a person, not just as a statistic.”

Last year, educators reported a surge in behavior challenges as students readjusted to school while still coping with pandemic stress and uncertainty. Across the country, many schools are providing mental health services to address the effects of the pandemic on students and provide support for trauma and at-risk students. Additionally, schools and community leaders are rallying to end gun violence where students experience it most

During the 2019–20 school year, 77% of public schools reported one or more incidents of crime, amounting to 1.4 million crimes nationwide during that school year. In Newark, students also face violence in their neighborhoods, prompting local groups like NCST to step in to help. NCST helps address the underlying causes of violent behavior and shields students from violent acts through initiatives like its Safe Passage program, which hires community members to patrol the routes students take to and from school. 

“Thanks to this funding, we expect Training and Interventionist Navigators to be working in the schools by mid-2023,” wrote Solomon Middleton-Williams, NCST’s deputy director. “They will identify students at risk, create a safety plan and refer students to NCST’s Trauma Recovery Center if needed.” 

Through the grant, NCST will work to hire and provide new staff, mental health and first aid training, school climate assessments, activities, and in-depth violence prevention and intervention for NOYN’s LEAD Charter School. NCST will also support the school’s existing safety plan and provide its own expertise in outreach, intervention, and trauma-informed work.

Newark is also looking at ways to fund more anti-violence programs throughout the community. In March, Mayor Ras Baraka awarded NCST, NOYN, and six other community-based organizations a $1 million grant as part of its violence reduction initiative through the Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery. The initiative supports its efforts to help youth and adults address trauma, health disparities, and social factors, specifically violence, as a public health issue heightened by the pandemic. 

Over the summer, residents saw an increase in violence in their communities prompting local groups like the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition and NCST to rally for peace in July. 

In June, a 17-year-old teen was arrested in connection with a drive-by shooting that injured nine people, including another teenager. In July, two men were killed and seven people were injured in five weekend shootings that occurred over a 25-hour period in Newark, according to reports by NJ.com.

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

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