Youth Anti-Violence Initiative

Participatory Action Research for Violence Reduction Project

Great Cities Institute is collaborating with the Alternative Schools Network (ASN) to implement the Participatory Action Research for Violence Reduction Project. The project is a one-year pilot initiative that will reduce violence in the Humboldt Park and Chatham neighborhoods of the City of Chicago.

“ASN is a membership-based organization composed of 43 not-for-profit, independent, and self-governing alternative schools, as well as youth and adult education organizations.” ASN acts as a vehicle for resource development, joint programming, and advocacy on behalf of inner-city youth who have dropped out of high school as well as low-skilled young adults. The goal of ASN “is to ensure that youth and young adults receive engaging and positive academic and wraparound programs and experiences, both during and after school,” in order to: increase graduation; reduce violence; offer an alternative to the school-to-prison pipeline for at-risk youth; prepare youth with essential skills for continuing on to college and earning a living wage; provide a successful transition to the workforce; develop skills necessary to be productive and empowered citizens; and create a future for marginalized youth.

The Participatory Action Research for Violence Reduction Project will engage “at risk” students in a process of participatory action research to bring forward voices and experiences of young people in the target areas as a means to better understand and reduce violence in their communities. Working alongside university researchers, students will design and implement the project, including an investigation of connections between education, employment and violence.

The project is based on the “empowerment theory” of modern psychology. In this approach, subjects (in this case at-risk youth) engage in both studying and intervening to stop negative change agents (those that cause violence). The project reduces community violence by keeping participants out of danger, engaged in a positive skill-building activity, and empowering them to be peer-interveners.

The program will serve 400 students who have previously dropped out of school. Students who were recruited by ASN organizations in the two communities are between the ages of 16-21 and are 60% African-American, 38% Latino and 2% of other races. There is roughly an even split of women and men and approximately 25% speak a primary language other than English at home. Nearly 35% have special learning needs and virtually all of the students are low-income.

By participating in the project, students will build skills, knowledge and capacity. Students will also have the opportunity to present their work before peers and policy makers stimulating community dialogue and action to prevent future violence.