by Daniel Borunda, El Paso Times
posted Feb 23, 2012, 11:51 AM by Rob Gallardo [updated Mar 1, 2012, 11:28 PM]
The recent death of a Canyon Hills Middle School student should be a wake-up call about the problems of violence, bullying and gangs facing middle-school students, said advocates and parents.
The death of eighth-grader Jose Lozano should spur schools to do more to protect children, said the parents of some students who have been assaulted.
“School — it’s a social minefield for many kids,” said John Linney of Impact Coaching and Speaking, which runs violence-prevention workshops at schools.
The middle-school years can be an especially challenging time as children hit puberty, seek an identity and long for independence, experts said. It is also the peak age for bullying. And gangs are increasingly recruiting middle-school students.
Lozano, 15, died Nov. 10 as the result of an after-school fistfight with a 14-year-old boy at a school bus stop, police said. The alleged assailant, whose name was not released, has been charged with murder.
Police called the case “gang-related” because the boys hung out with gangs in their neighborhood.
The boys’ friends said the boys had a personal dispute and were not gang members, but other recent gang-related beatings have occurred involving students of the Northeast school.
Andrea Minor said she was frightened by Lozano’s death because her 13-year-old son has been bullied, punched and called names at Parkland Middle School.
“It made me cry. I don’t want it to be my kid … ,” Minor said. “I feel people don’t care cause it’s not their kid. I know my son is not the problem. He’s a straight-A student. He’s in gifted and talented (classes), but he’s afraid to go to school.”
Mark Parsons said his 16-year-old stepdaughter was injured in a recent fight with another girl at Franklin High School. Like Minor, he felt that concerns about violence were not taken seriously by schools. “They try to minimize it,” he said.
Both Minor and Parsons are waiting to hear from officials in their school districts. The children’s names were not published for fear of reprisals.
District officials have said schools have taken proactive violence prevention measures, including bullying-prevention workshops, and a police officer is stationed at most high schools and middle schools in El Paso.
But Linney said 70 percent of mistreatment in a school goes unnoticed by adults, who often dismiss the problem as a part of growing up.
“It starts with small stuff, with exclusion and bullying, and it grows into the fights and student bringing weapons to school. Students bring weapons to school to protect themselves,” Linney said.
Some teens will also join gangs for protection, though that leads to more problems, police said.
Gang prevention counselor Rob Gallardo of the OnRamp Youth Foundation of El Paso said gangs are spreading into middle schools in an attempt replace older members who are imprisoned or have retired.
Parental involvement and supervision are vital to prevent gang involvement, he said.
“Schools are there to teach. Parents are there to form lives,” Gallardo said. “We can’t just be dumping all this on schools.”
The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, which is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported that almost 30 percent of teens in the United States are estimated to be involved in bullying either as an aggressor or as a victim.
Boys are more likely to take part in or be victims of physical aggression, while girls are more likely to be involved in passive aggression such as spreading gossip or encouraging rejection, the center said.
And though there are concerns about youth violence, teens are less likely to be victims than in the early 1990s. The U.S. Department of Justice reported earlier this year that the national violent crime victimization rate for teens ages 12-17 decreased 59 percent from 1993 to 2003.
Note: OnRamp Youth Foundation is now Operation No Gangs
Original online story on El Paso Times website no longer available