Philadelphia program to provide support for students who experience trauma from violence

The Handle With Care initiative will notify the district of students who have been exposed to some type of violence so they can receive wraparound services.

Philadelphia Military Academy Principal Kristian Ali

From left, Philadelphia Military Academy Principal Kristian Ali, Police Commmissioner Kevin Bethel, Command Sergeant Major Nadia Janae Porter and Cadet Colonel Kaheem Bailey Taylor. (Tribune photo/Abdul R. Sulayman)

This story originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune.

A pilot program to support students who experience trauma outside school was launched on Monday at the Philadelphia Military Academy through a collaboration between the school district and police department.

The Handle With Care initiative will be responsible for notifying the district of students who have been exposed to some type of violence so they can receive wraparound services.

“It will be 24 hours a day, 365 days per year,” said Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel. “This program has been a dream of mine for I don’t know how long.”

For now, the program will be for the 22nd Police District headquarters, which covers north-central Philadelphia and will involve 15 schools in the area. The pilot program goes live this summer, said Jayme Banks, deputy chief of prevention, trauma and intervention for the school district.

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The program is funded by a $1 million grant issued by the Bureau of Justice Assistance through the Office of Justice Programs. It will include comprehensive training for 300 law enforcement and 100 school personnel to increase knowledge and awareness of student exposure to trauma and violence.

“This is an unusual opportunity for the city,” said Command Sergeant Major Nadia Porter, a student at the military academy. “We want the kids to have the confidence to talk to people when they need to, and to feel safe and unashamed to say what they feel, because that can be a part of it.”

Porter, who hails from West Philadelphia, plans to study law at Temple University. She feels “a sense of sadness for those students” who were in the middle of the shootings near Imhotep Institute Charter High School and Northeast High School a few weeks back.

“I can’t help them the way I want to,” but counselors can, Porter said. “Kids need someone to talk to, someone to be there, someone to be a good role model.”

Cadet Colonel Kaheem Bailey Taylor, a senior and brigadier commander at the military academy, said he thinks the program will give students some hope.

“You have to bring a seat to the police commissioner’s office and to the mayor’s table,” he said. “You have to say what you want.”

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Taylor told The Tribune he was at a cousin’s birthday party when a kid was shot and he forced himself to speak on the incident.

“We can’t control what happens outside of our schools, but our schools are safe havens and everyone is safe inside,” said Monique Braxton, director of communications for the school district. “Trauma can have a significant impact on a student’s ability to learn and have positive relationships. So we are eager for this partnership.”

District staff will be given the student’s name and school information where the student will be greeted by campus leaders.

“We want the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders who have seen violence in the streets or domestic violence at home to know that we are here,” Bethel said.

Kristian Ali, principal of the military academy, said officials are dedicated to serving and helping each student.

“The child who is not embraced will grow up to burn down the village,” Ali said.

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