More than 200 high school students attended a Youth Power Summit on November 9 at Community College of Philadelphia to learn about institutional causes of violence and tools they can use to prevent it.
Sponsored by the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, the event addressed students' rights when disciplined, ways to combat ethnic and other kinds of bias, and the historical impact of nonviolent campaigns for justice.
Students also discussed the "school-to-prison pipeline" and evidence that discipline policies involving suspensions and expulsions affect disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino youth.
Lawrence Jones, a West Philadelphia High and Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) alumnus, led a workshop about student rights. Each student received a booklet prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union explaining rules about discipline, school security, and policing. Some students were surprised to learn that teachers don't suspend students – administrators do.
"I had no idea teachers were not allowed to suspend students," said Shaiana Moultrie of Charles Carroll High School.
Jones said students' lack of understanding about their rights is a symptom of larger institutional violence.
"When schools are underfunded, kids are going to school hungry and are being sent home for inappropriate reasons – those are all forms of violence," he said.
"I just hope the students recognize that and take away a sense of power."
Ten youth organizations comprise the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, including PSU, Citywide Student Government, Asian Students Association of Philadelphia, and Youth United for Change.