Leaders discuss violence in Albemarle schools
ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Does Albemarle High School have a violence problem? Videos circulating on social media this year caused some members of the community to claim that fights are at the school are on the rise.
However, Principal Darah Bonham says that's not the case. He says students' increased access to phones and social media at school has created a lens that shows an increase in fights, but the numbers show the opposite.
"A student body with close to 2,000 in our building each and every day, and there's going to be conflict. That's just the nature of working with people,” he said.
So far this year, 25 fights have broken out at AHS, but Bonham says that number is down.
Last year there were 33, and prior to going virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 53 during the 2019-2020 school year.
Bonham said last year was a rebuilding year after COVID.
"We cannot forget that our students had 15 months of interrupted education especially when it meant coming into a building," he said.
So, school leaders created new programs and positions that focus on prevention and reactionary practices.
Jason Lee, a former administrator and safety operations supervisor, started as the dean of students just a month ago. Other schools in the county do not have a similar position.
"I'm focused on student needs, creating relationships, and a connector of the dots to our administration team to families to students to all stakeholders," Lee said.
Lee said students are happy to see him and getting to know them will help him prevent a possible fight. But, if a fight does occur, he's focused on what he calls restorative justice, which he's already done in his first month.
"We focus on students recognizing where they went wrong, and then wrapping around them to address those concerns. But yet make them feel back a part of the school community," he said.
Michelle Benedict is a teacher and one of AHS’s 15 mediators.
"Many kids will get into a fight because they don't have tools. So, mediation gives them a chance," she said.
She has students write notes to each other or she guides conversations between them, both to prevent fights and resolve them.
To continue to prevent violence, Bonham said he's open to talking about the return of a school resource officer.