Advertisement

Survival 101 : The days of school spirit have given way to harsh lessons in violence. Students guardedly watch how they talk, walk and dress to avoid trouble. How can we keep them safe?

June 02, 1995|DENNIS ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Narbonne High School is Any Campus, U.S.A. Its mascot is a cowboy, and the school itself was named for a rancher who donated land to the school district more than 100 years ago. From its award-winning student newspaper to its respectable rate of college-bound seniors (30%), this Harbor City high school is anything but a stereotypical inner-city campus.

It's a suburban spread with pine trees out front and a baseball diamond out back.

But only two weeks ago, Narbonne High was less a suburban dream than a horrible nightmare. After Shazeb Andleeb, 17, who died, authorities believe, from injuries sustained in a beating by classmates (at issue was his guest list for an upcoming party), experts are debating how to keep a cruel world from invading campuses like Narbonne.

Teaching street smarts as well as the "three Rs" is one idea.

"We need to teach kids how to keep out of these situations," said B. David Brooks, president of the Jefferson Center for Character Education in Pasadena. And there are educators who see the need to go beyond avoidance training and start teaching self-defense training.

"I think there's no doubt that this should be done," said Mark Slavkin, a Los Angeles Unified School District board member. "We have arrived at the day when we need to give kids hands-on skills [in protecting themselves] if someone attacks them."

Self-defense author Judith Fein agrees: "Self-defense training ought to go into the elementary schools and the high schools."

The Narbonne beating was the fourth killing at a district school in the past two years. But May was a particularly bad month for area teens.

A day before the beating, the body of a 14-year-old Orange County boy was found in a Tustin ditch. Investigators suspect four teen-agers were involved in the killing, which centered on a dispute over a deejay stereo system.

Only last week, two Agoura Hills High School students were stabbed off campus--one died. According to investigators, the culprits are five fellow teen-agers. Prosecutors believe the motive was robbery.

Also last week, two teens were shot--one was killed. According to investigators, the teen who was killed had been asked by a gang member to explain "where he was from," which, in street parlance, is a way of asking for someone's gang affiliation.

Narbonne student Shazeb was recently described by classmates as a "schoolboy," someone who got caught up in a dispute with a graffiti tagging crew. The district attorney's office said the dispute started when the tagging crew invited themselves to a party Shazeb was planning and Shazeb uninvited them. Two students have been charged with murder; four others have been arrested.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be accepting of these conditions," Slavkin said.

*

Meanwhile, the kids at Narbonne have come up with their own street curriculum, which comes as no surprise to many school officials.

"You may be surprised to find that some young people are very smart about how to survive," said district Police Chief Wesley Mitchell.

For one, students learn to isolate themselves. "I only talk to people that I know," said one Narbonne 10th-grader. "If you look at certain people, they're going to tell you, 'What are you looking at?' "

"I just keep to myself," said Narbonne senior Carlos Espinoza, 18, leaning against a chain-link fence that surrounds the campus.

They also learn how to dress. "If you dress like a gang member, you'll get hit up," Espinoza said. "If you walk around like you're bad, they'll let you know who's bad. . . . I would just keep strolling--don't go looking for it."

"People are always judging you by the way you dress and carry yourself," said junior Maria Lealiiee, 16.

Students know not to stare, for fear of setting off gang members. "The thing that some girls really trip off of [get angered by] is if you look at them the wrong way," Maria said. "So you don't look at them and don't say anything."

And since gangster girls--called cholas --often wear heavy makeup, other girls take special care in the way they look so as not to attract unwanted attention.

"The way you wear your makeup, that could get you in trouble too," Maria said.

And people on campus learn to watch their words. "Don't be talking to people, don't be spreading stuff around," said senior Anjanee Mitchell, 18.

"Basically," said district adviser Lee Saltz, "you're looking at a society of young people that is so hardened that violence is a part of their life now."

*

Based on what he knows, USC psychology professor Adrian Raine said these street smarts are pretty smart, especially in light of an increase in what he calls "proactive aggression" on school campuses.

"More and more often troublemakers want people to see them fighting," he said. "This violence has a clear purpose with a clear goal: increasing status, or getting money.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|