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Benton Harbor Area Schools looks to students for help in stabilizing

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- With concerns about fighting leaving some families nervous and the school board trying to keep up with its partnership agreement with the state, Benton Harbor’s superintendent is hoping student-led initiatives will help make a difference.

“This is going to be about, and from, the bowels of our kids,” said Superintendent Dr. Shelly Walker.

Walker said the students that walk the halls of Benton Harbor’s schools each day can help lead the district to better times.

“They need support,” said local Pastor Steven McCoy. “And the only way they’re going to get support is bringing the community together to offer them that support.”

McCoy is working with Walker to host a safety coalition meeting that is set for Thursday evening, February 1.

Recent fights in the schools, like one caught on camera in December, have families worried.

And at Tuesday’s school board meeting, representatives from the state brought forward significant changes to the district’s partnership agreement – which is helping keep the city’s schools open.

In an exclusive interview on Thursday, ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz asked Walker if families should be concerned about a state takeover.

“Of course I’m going to say don’t be concerned, but I don’t know that that’s a realistic answer because I can’t speak for the state,” she said. “What I will say is from everything that I am seeing, the answer to that is no.”

Walker then had five Benton Harbor High School students speak with ABC57 about programs they are taking part in to try to make change.

They include a peer-to-peer mentoring program and a ‘Peace for Life Youth Ambassadors Club.’

“I believe it will help once they see that they have a voice and they can express themselves in other ways than violence,” said Benton Harbor senior Kalicia Wells.

“When it’s a peer or someone you’re age – like somebody older, they can just say something that you really don’t interpret more, [then] if it was somebody your age,” said Robert Reed, a senior.

“I feel like most of the bad things said about the school are really exaggerated,” said senior Thomel Green. “Like, I’ll go out of town or something and I’ll mention Benton Harbor and they’ll ask me about all the fighting and stuff. It’s not really that bad, like if you’re here.”

Walker said the district has disciplined 11-percent of all students for fighting or violent behavior on school grounds this school year.

She said she wants that number to be zero, but she doesn’t think it’s too far off from other districts.

ABC57’s Taurean Small is covering Thursday’s safety coalition meeting. He’ll have a full report on ABC57 News at 10 and 11 p.m.

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