Initiative aims to curb male youth violence

November 18, 2009 (CHICAGO) The University of Chicago Crime Lab is teaming up with two organizations a project called BAM or Becoming A Man.

World Sport Chicago will offer sports activities and Youth Guidance will offer group counseling in an effort to keep teenage boys away from gangs, crime, and violence.

The new initiative, called Bam Sports Edition will be in 15 schools this year. It targets adolescent boys just beginning to get in trouble and at risk of dropping out.

If it's successful, it could be the model for anti-violence programs.

Since the beating death of Fenger High School Student Derrion Albert, preventing violence among youth has been placed under the national spotlight. It's an issue the program BAM has addressed for several years at Clemente High School with weekly group sessions and exercises in anger management.

Now, BAM has expanded to Fenger and several other high schools and elementary schools to teach at-risk boys ages 12 to 16 how to be more accountable for their actions.

"A youth may come and say, my life's not working because of this reason, so we talk about that. We do some process around that. I will now do this. Now that I've done the work in that, here's how I will live my life," said Tony Di Vittorio, BAM program manager.

BAM's expansion comes as Youth Guidance is teaming up with World Sports Chicago which will introduce the young men to martial arts and non-traditional sports. It's a partnership that organizers say reinforces the lessons learned in counseling.

"It's learning to channel your anger. It's learning self discipline. It's learning to commit to a goal and objective," said Scott Myers, World Sport Chicago.

Several of the students say the program has changed their lives.

"Before I met this program I was a little roughneck, I was a little thug. Now I stay in school and do my work and my grades are good now," said Bruce Moore, student.

But researchers want more than testimonials to verify whether this approach to curbing violence works. The University of Chicago Crime Lab is studying it like a medical clinical trial.

"One of the challenges we face in this area is that we haven't been able to do as good a trying to learn from experience in evaluating the different promising ideas that we've been trying," said Jens Ludwig, University Of Chicago Crime Lab.

The crime lab will analyze the students' academic achievement, attendance and school discipline and compare that to data from a control group of similar students who did not participate in bam-sports edition. The lab then can build scientific evidence about violence prevention efforts.

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