Sixth graders in Milwaukee Public Schools are learning about interpersonal violence in a new way, thanks to Milwaukee firefighters, paramedics and community leaders. Project Ujima, a program of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, is partnering with these community groups to facilitate classroom discussions with young people about violence through a new program, “Staying Alive.”
To date, we’re really proud to say that “Staying Alive” has reached more than 500 students, with the goal of having all MPS sixth graders experience the program within the next two years. The “team” comprised of two firefighters and two Project Ujima staff visits school classrooms and talks to students about the roots of violence, strategies for avoiding violence, anger triggers and how to stay safe. Most effective are simulated activities like utilizing pulse sticks that show the kids their anger. The pulse sticks help students understand their anger triggers an actual physiological response. They also learn ways to calm themselves down when their anger has been triggered, and they can see the difference for themselves as they calm down. Role-playing with students illustrates real life situations in which they may find themselves, and it teaches them how to respond with out resorting to violence.
This unique program was the idea of a Milwaukee paramedic who was compelled to find a solution to violence after his department transported more than 800 adult and child gun shot wound victims in 2006. More than 600 of these victims survived their injuries due to the quick response of the Milwaukee Fire Department and the treating medical personnel at local hospitals, but the numbers are still alarming. Through Project Ujima, Children’s Hospital and Project Ujima cared for 106 child gunshot wound victims in 2006 and 2007 with only three fatalities.
“Ujima” is a Ki-swahili word meaning “working together to make things right.” Project Ujima is a community project committed to helping stop the cycle of violent crimes by reducing the number of repeat victims of violence. Project Ujima has served over 3,000 youth since 1996. It includes the collaborative efforts of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin.
–Toni Rivera is manager of Project Ujima, a program of Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin