Raleigh, N.C. — A WRAL Investigation found that seven of the 10 most violent public schools in Wake County are middle schools, and many of those troubled teens may not get the help they need because of budget cuts.
The state formula to determine violence in schools is based on several factors, including possession of a weapon, assault, robbery and possession of an illegal substance.
WRAL redacted the drug possession numbers since that is not a violent offense. Once the drug numbers were taken out, the crime rate was higher in middle schools than in high schools.
10 MOST VIOLENT SCHOOLS IN WAKE COUNTY
|RANK||SCHOOL||OFFENSES||STUDENTS||RATE PER 1,000|
|1||East Wake Middle||33||1,057||31.2|
|2||Moore Square Magnet Middle||12||473||25.4|
|3||West Millbrook Middle||22||890||24.7|
|4||East Garner Middle||27||1,111||24.3|
|5||Southeast Raleigh High||32||1,584||20.2|
|7||North Garner Middle||22||1,152||19.1|
Wake schools’ senior director of security, Russ Smith, said there were fewer incidents of violence in the 2008-09 school year than in years past. He presented the following statistics, which do not include drug offenses, per WRAL's request:
Middle schools 2008-2009
Incidents per 1,000 middle school students: 10.03
Incidents per 1,000 high school students: 9.43
Middle schools 2007-2008
Incidents per 1,000 middle school students: 12.67
Incidents per 1,000 high school students: 8.48
"Middle school incidents have decreased by 21 percent, and the gap between high school and middle school students has been significantly closed," Smith said.
He added, however, that gangs are a contributing factor to some of the violence in schools.
"Gangs are an emerging issue and have been an emerging issue over the years. That is going to contribute to some of the numbers that you see," Smith said.
Programs help get kids back on track
Juan Almendariz, who was expelled from Garner Magnet High, says he knows he “chose the wrong decisions.” Now he is working to get back into the Wake school system by volunteering with About Face II Inc., a non-profit organization that helps youth and families in Wake County.
Darien Chambers, an eighth-grader on long-term suspension from North Garner Middle, is volunteering there as well. He says “being stupid” is what led to him getting suspended.
"I found out here that life is not going to be what you want it to be. It's going to be some ups and downs, but you can conquer it," Darien said. “I’m finding out that my choices do have consequences."
About Face is just one organization in Wake County that was created to help troubled teens and give them “a second change to succeed in life,” according to Director Robin Flow.
"Sometimes I think that having that extra attention means a lot to these students – being told that they are loved," Flow said. "And it's OK, you made a mistake, but let's not do it again. This is how we can do it differently. This is how we make a difference – tough love. We show a lot of tough love."
Leaders at Haven House say they have a common denominator – large numbers of middle school students with discipline problems.
“That’s a difficult age. That’s a time when kids are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be and who they want to hang out with,” said Michelle Zechmann, executive director of Haven House.
The organizations are also fighting for funds to keep the programs alive. State and local funding for those groups is being cut off because of the budget crisis.
"We don't know where the program will go from here," Flow said. "That's very alarming, because we are the only program in the Garner area that serves long-term suspended kids."
“Almost all of our programs have waiting lists,” Zechmann said. “When we look at that, there is a need out there in the community. When we look at cutting funding, we’re going to see bigger waiting lists (and) more kids not getting served.”
John Wall, the reigning Wake County Principal of the Year, said he is not ashamed that his school, North Garner Middle, is the seventh most-violent school in the county.
“I would submit that, as a principal of North Garner Middle, if I was included in that group it’s simply because I’m very vigilant in ensuring that the rules are enforced,” he said.
He acknowledges that there has been “an increase in gang activity” in the 12 years that he has been principal. To combat problems, Wall said he is firm but fair and requires every administrator to volunteer time with students.
“It’s all about relationships. Kids trust me, and I trust (them),” he said.
For Juan and Darien, the journey back is slow but not without reward.
“I know enough now for me not to do the things I did and not to hang with the wrong people,” Darien said.