Years ago, Jacquelyn Campbell watched a group of Baltimore teens performing on stage and thought, What a perfect way to deliver messages about violence prevention.
“This theater project was a fabulous way to get young people involved that went beyond classroom teaching,” recalls Campbell, PhD, RN, the school’s associate dean for faculty affairs and an internationally-known expert and leader in the area of domestic violence. “The more you get all of the senses involved, the more you learn.”
That initial revelation has now taken the form of an art-based anti-violence program currently being implemented in four Baltimore City middle schools.
In addition to a theater arts component, Campbell’s program — funded through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — provides seventh graders with the opportunity to participate in visual arts or web page design. The project also includes an anti-violence component added to the seventh grade curriculum, anti-violence training for faculty and school staff, and discussion groups for students.
According to Campbell, 90 percent of the children in these schools have been exposed to violence, at home or on the streets. Based on surveys completed by seventh graders in three of the schools, 13.5 percent have already experienced violence from a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year. Abusive behavior ranges from name calling (one in four), to being slapped in the face (one in 10), to the smaller percentage who have been beaten up or threatened with a weapon.
“These kids are young, but they are at a stage where they are starting to date or at least think about dating in the traditional sense, and they need help to develop ideas about healthy relationships,” says Campbell. “They need help in figuring out what range of behavior is appropriate —when is it teasing, and when does it cross the line and become abuse?”
To evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention, students and teachers will be surveyed to measure beliefs about aggression, exposure to violence, and attitudes and behaviors related to violence prevention. Participating students and schools will be compared against those who have not received the anti-violence education.
At Lombard Middle School, the first school to participate, students in the theater arts program received instruction in acting techniques, psychodrama, meditation, sound therapy, spirituals, Native American chants, and African songs. Under the direction of Kay Lawal-Muhammad and Rashida Forman-Bey, co-directors of the NuWorld Art Ensemble, they drew upon the dramatic skills they learned — and their personal experiences — to create an original production complete with costumes, professional choreography, and African drumming.
“This is a physically active process,” says Campbell. “There’s singing, dancing, and music. It’s culturally relevant for this population, and the theater provides a free atmosphere, where the kids can open up.”
For the visual arts component to the program, Campbell called upon the expertise of Michael Yonas, creator of the Visual Voices™ project, a youth arts initiative designed to bring children together to address issues concerning their lives through painting, drawing, and writing. Since its creation in 1993 the project has involved nearly 1,300 youth from eight cities in the United States, most often in underserved neighborhoods.
At Lombard, Yonas worked with art teacher Evelyn Larkins to guide students in discussing topics like rights and responsibilities in a relationship and the differences between flirting and sexual harassment. After the discussions, students gathered around a blue tarp on the floor to paint and later completed writing assignments, which were shared with and critiqued by the group.
” Whether they are painting or writing, it’s often the same process. It presents an opportunity to express feelings about experiences, such as a father being shot, or dreams, such as being in Paris someday or having children and owning a home,” says Yonas. “They start to see that there are people around them who they can talk to, including their peers.”
Under the direction of Frank Hoey, a web developer in the School of Nursing’s information technology department, students participating in Lombard’s web group learned how to create a web page and how to link it to other pages related to violence prevention.
Students started by learning basic computer information. Guest speakers from the House of Ruth, a Baltimore shelter for abused women, and HEBCAC (the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Inc.) helped the group explore themes related to violence, such as power and control and supporting others. The students then shared their thoughts on the computer, and the material was made into a web page, enhanced with color and sound. [www.son.jhmi.edu/research/violenceprevention/students]
Even though the five-year anti-violence project is not yet complete (preliminary results should be available next spring), Campbell is already moving forward, giving presentations to other Baltimore City schools and providing training.
She is optimistic that the data will show the program is working, thus enabling her to secure funding to continue the intervention program and expand to other schools. Says Campbell, “The beauty of this intervention is that it can be done in school or as part of an after-school program, and teachers and counselors involved one year can carry it on and provide training to other educators.”
Asthmatic children in rural settings have unique needs and face challenges very different from children in urban settings. The A+ Asthma Rural Study, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research and started in 2001 by former faculty member Karen Huss, DNSc, RN, FAAN, is determining just how rural school-age children and their parents should be taught to best deal with their asthma.
The four-year study is now entering its second phase under the leadership of associate professor and pediatric nurse Marilyn Winkelstein, PhD, RN. Having finished working with children, parents, and school nurses from elementary schools in three counties along the Eastern Shore, the research team will soon begin working with schools in another three counties. The study will evaluate the effectiveness of a school-based asthma educational intervention which uses educational materials tailored specifically for a rural population.
By gaining a better understanding of the genetics and molecular biology of breast cancer, doctoral student Theresa Swift-Scanlan hopes to contribute to cancer prevention and early detection. A National Research Service Award will fund Swift-Scanlan’s dissertation research, entitled “Epigenetic Modifiers of Breast Cancer Risk.” Her research will be used to improve risk assessment and may ultimately aid women in the decision making process regarding screening and risk reduction measures such as mastectomy and chemoprevention.