During the summer of 2019, Counseling in Schools (CIS) and high school students from the Heritage School in East Harlem began partnering with Dr. Danielle Laraque-Arena, Senior Scholar-in-Residence at The New York Academy of Medicine, to address the issue of gun violence in their community. Unfortunately, the Heritage School community is no stranger to the impact of gun violence, as it is both a pressing concern in their neighborhood and just a few years ago, a high school student was killed in close proximity to the school building.
Dr. Laraque-Arena reached out to CIS looking for young people to participate in a research project on how to effectively respond to the gun violence epidemic in the United States. CIS connected her with the Heritage School and soon after, five students were chosen for a summer internship. Working with Dr. Laraque-Arena and graduate students at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, they adapted a community assessment tool from UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative to document youth perspectives on gun violence and invite their opinions regarding intervention measures.
Each week the students participate in meetings, becoming an integral part of the scientific process, and learning practical skills that they can use in college and their future careers, such as how to work in a group setting, conduct themselves in a professional environment, and meet deadlines. This work also helps empower the students and involve them in the process of promoting positive social change in their community.
The group has continued their work into the current school year and is now finalizing the survey tool, which they will first implement with a small group before distributing it schoolwide. The results will be presented in Spring 2021 at a two-day conference; and ultimately, this study will be adapted so that other youth communities nationwide can use it to address and prevent gun violence.