With our children now back in the classrooms, newspapers across the nation report in front-page headlines: "Area Schools Enhancing Security," as school boards and principals move to prevent a recurrence of recent killing rampages.
Almost everywhere, schools and police proudly announce they are forging closer links. This fall, more students and more places see more metal detectors and uniformed security guards on campus than ever before.
Reassuring as such steps may be, do they really get to the heart of the problem? Doesn't the record of teen killing rampages suggest that adults need to engage more directly and continuously with troubled teenagers to draw them away from sliding into violence and crime?
In fact, though they rarely get much media attention, some communities are coming up with effective and deeper answers to teen crime that point the way for other towns and cities. Here are some examples, from a PBS special I'm working on that is scheduled for telecast on Wednesday:
Here in Washington, the Alliance of Concerned Men literally stopped a gang war in the Benning Terrace public housing project that had taken the lives of an ice cream vendor, a taxi driver, several residents and nine youths, the last being 12-year-old Darryl Hall.
With their personal commitment to halt the bloodshed on Washington's streets, alliance members succeeded where the police could not. As former felons who had straightened out their own lives, the members had both the courage and credibility to deal with the young street fighters.
Joining forces with David Gilmore, receiver for the D.C. Housing Authority, the group helped put the former Benning Terrace "crew" members and street fighters on the path toward GED programs and college, and into mainstream jobs cleaning up the housing projects that they once terrorized. In an area where there were eight killings in 1996, there were none last year.
In Oregon, five counties have signed up their high schools with the Los Hermanos Crime Prevention Program, an unusual effort created by long-term inmates in the Oregon State Penitentiary to reach troubled teenagers. "We wanted to try to keep the kids that we know out there -- which was our own children, nephews and nieces -- from ending up in prison like we did, because some of them were already going down the same path," explains Antonio Palacios, a co-founder of Los Hermanos who is serving 60 years for conspiracy to kill a police officer.
Regional courts have assigned juvenile offenders to take the course, along with students from local high schools who are sliding into serious trouble. Nine times a year, the youths go inside the prison walls for face-to-face mentoring sessions with the Los Hermanos inmates.
In Southern California, one pioneering effort that has had remarkable impact on a high school campus offers a powerful model for communities worried about another Littleton, Colo. It is the "Tolerance Class" led by Joe Moros, an English and speech teacher at San Clemente High School.
In the early 1990s, the campus was full of inter-ethnic tensions among whites, Latinos, blacks and Asian Americans. In 1993, there were two terrible incidents: the near-fatal beating of a gay youth by a San Clemente student and a violent rumble between groups of Latino and white youths that ended in the death of a white student.
Moros pushed for and got permission to teach a course against hate, bigotry and discrimination. His goal, he says, was "to stop the hatred and the violence." In this tolerance class, students are encouraged to talk openly about the discrimination that they personally experience -- not just ethnic prejudice but gender bigotry and prejudice against different kinds of students, such as those with mental problems or physical disabilities. Moros also invites victims of the Holocaust and other forms of hate violence as guest speakers to broaden the students' horizons.
Some 200 students out of a student body of 2,000 have taken the class. But students, graduates and teachers comment on how the class has moderated the social climate on campus. "To be honest, it seems like the whole school is just toned down on intolerance," says Steve Raines, a former white-pride racist whose brother Jeff was sent to prison for the gay-beating incident.
"The class did change me," Raines says. "I'm glad that [Moros] didn't give up on me."
When I asked him if it was possible for high school students to be taught tolerance, he looked me straight in the eye: "Definitely," he said. "If you can teach a kid to slow down and realize what he's doing before it happens, you're going save a lot of people." Today, Raines wants to become an art teacher and work with troubled as well as talented young people.
The writer is executive producer and correspondent of several PBS documentaries.