Planning is underway for Pasco County Schools’ second youth summit aimed at reducing violence and creating more inclusive schools throughout the district.
The Together We Stand Youth and Community Summit 2014 will be on June 10 at River Ridge Center for the Performing Arts at River Ridge High School.
The first planning session for this year’s event was on Jan. 21.
This year’s theme is “building safer, more inclusive schools and communities, and reducing violence,’’ according to school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.
Speakers and guests have not yet been fully determined, but the event will include Roy Kaplan, last year’s keynote speaker, and Pasco County Schools superintendent Kurt Browning. The daylong seminar will include a keynote address, breakout sessions, networking, lunch and a panel discussion.
An online application will be available soon for speakers and exhibitors. Online registration for the free event will start in April.
The summit is one of the tangible ways that Browning is trying to promote an increased “culture of caring and respect” in the county’s public schools.
The lack of civility and lack of respect are issues that Browning has frequently discussed. He wrote about those concerns in an op-ed piece published last December in The Laker/Lutz News after the violent death of a 16-year-old. Another teenager was charged with the crime.
“When that op-ed was penned, I think it had a sense of frustration, desperation, in it,” Browning said.
“I know it will take deliberate and tough conversations within families and communities to help kids learn how to deal with conflict and cope with adversity appropriately. We must work together,” the superintendent wrote in the piece.
His words struck a chord with readers.
“I did get a number of emails, as well as people stopping me out in the community, when I’ve walked through schools, teachers have stopped me, administrators,” Browning said. “They agree. We’ve lost civility. We’ve lost respect. We have become, in my opinion, a society of entitlement — with no accountability, no responsibility.”
There are no easy answers, Browning said.
“This is like nailing Jell-O to a tree,” Browning said. “It’s such a pervasive, complex issue. It is a societal issue. It is a cultural issue. And yet, the school district is expected to fix it.”
Technology adds to the challenge.
“Technology is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because of the things that we can do with kids today in the classroom are incredible,” Browning said. “It’s a curse because we have technological advances in our school being used inappropriately.”
Photos taken with smart phones often end up in cyberspace. And once the images are circulating, they’re out there forever, Browning said.
Cyberbullying is an issue, too.
The district also must deal with electronic posts in which students threaten to harm others or themselves, Browning said. A student making a flippant remark can set off a whole chain reaction of activity.
“We’ve got to notify district staff, we’ve got to notify law enforcement, we reach out to moms and dads,” he said.
So how does this all get back to the culture of caring and respect?
“It starts at home. It starts at home,” Browning said. “These kids are sponges. They watch moms and dads. They watch neighborhood kids. They watch other adults. And these kids are going to model what they see.”
For his part, the superintendent sets a tone of high expectation for the district’s staff. When it comes to influencing student behavior on campus, Browning believes that students are key to elevating the standard of behavior among their peers.
This year, Browning wants middle school students to be involved in planning the youth summit. Behavior problems begin to develop when children are young, so the district needs to address them — and involve students at younger ages — in helping to find solutions.
In addition to supporting the youth summit, Browning encourages student initiatives aimed at building respect at schools throughout the district, and he wants district administrators to support the youth-led efforts.
Browning believes that, essentially, people have the same needs and desires.
“When you take our skin color off of us, we all look the same,” he said. “Our emotions are the same. We express them differently. Our desires are the same. We want to be successful. We want to be loved. We want to be cared for. We want to be respected.
“Even the hardest of hard kids want to be cared for, loved and respected. I’m convinced of that,” Browning said. “We need to be respectful. We need to be civil. We need to be caring.”
Browning welcomes suggestion and help from the community. Those who would like to help or have ideas can email him at .
Published Feb. 5, 2014
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