Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism IN Schools (2022-2024)

USA

Summary

BRAVE Schools works in partnership with middle and high schools throughout Western Massachusetts to proactively engage students and staff in preventing violence and strengthening resilience.

About BRAVE Schools

Students today are struggling in their mental health, social lives, and sense of belonging. Unfortunately, this increases their vulnerability to recruitment from hate groups, and students today report being regularly exposed to hate online. At the same time, mass shootings are increasing. Older teens are the age cohort most likely to engage in serious violence.

School communities provide vital support to youth. This project works with the whole school community to strengthen each school’s resilience to violence and extremism.

Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism in Schools (BRAVE Schools) focuses particularly on building student resilience against the spread of hate groups and violent extremism, and preventing future acts of targeted violence.

We use a whole-school approach in middle and high schools to engage a range of students and staff in problem-solving issues that could hinder a positive, safe school climate. Our aim is to enhance school capacity to recognize and address the often-unacknowledged factors that can lead youth down a path toward violence and hate.

BRAVE Schools trains and supports a cross-cutting Care Team within each school. Earlier this year, we worked with the Alliance for Peacebuilding to evaluate each school’s existing capacity for violence prevention. Now, we are working with each Care Team as they each develop a Resilient and Safe Schools (RSS) Plan to strengthen their school’s holistic capacity for preventing violence. The project objectives are:

Raise awareness

  • Learn to identify risk factors and early warning signs
  • Understand factors that build student resilience

Strengthen processes

  • Create/strengthen integrated systems that support struggling youth, assess behaviors, and provide tiered responses to prevent violence

Build resilience

  • Embed proactive violence prevention strategies in the school culture
  • Improve safety of school climate for everyone 

BRAVE Schools combines Karuna Center’s dialogue-based practices with the expertise of two trainers, Robert Örell and Tony McAleer. Both are renowned leaders in creating pathways for people to avoid or exit hate groups, and are themselves former violent extremists who were recruited as youth.

BRAVE Schools engages students as well as staff: Tony and Robert have visited middle and high school students at four schools to discuss how hate groups recruit, what could put their peers at risk of becoming involved, and how to get out. We also collaborated with Fabio Ayala from The Center for Restorative Practices at Amherst College to host a daylong workshop for students in facilitating community-building circles. 

Based on feedback and interest from Care Teams, we are integrating support for restorative justice and non-punitive methods for addressing challenging behaviors—and incorporating training in threat assessment and threat management. We are also facilitating a Peer Support Network among the Care Teams that we hope will continue even after this pilot ends.

The Alliance for Peacebuilding—a network of 165+ organizations working in 181 countries, of which Karuna Center is a memberlead the project’s monitoring and evaluation processes, as part of their work to learn about and amplify effective strategies for local peacebuilding in the United States.

Karuna Center’s BRAVE Schools project is one of 43 recipients nationwide funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, opportunity number DHS-22-TTP-132-00-01, and takes a public health approach to violence prevention. The grants were announced in conjunction with the White House’s United We Stand Summit on hate-fueled violence.

 

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Latest Updates

SUPPORTING STUDENT “CIRCLE KEEPERS” TO BUILD COMMUNITY & HELP PREVENT HARM

To help youth better support each other, and strengthen their ability to build community within their schools, Karuna Center worked with local experts in restorative practices to organize a 4-hour “Circle Keepers” workshop.

Read More

In this excerpt from our event on June 11, 2023 — Bringing the Lessons Home: The Power of Dialogue, Locally and Globally — Sam Camera discusses some of the challenges that school communities face in the wake of the pandemic, and how the BRAVE Schools program is helping. Sam Camera is an Assistant Principal at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School, and a core participant in our BRAVE Schools program.

Parent/guardian info night: How are youth lured into hate online?

How do extremist groups recruit youth online, on gaming platforms and social media? How do I recognize violent extremism and what can be done to prevent and respond to it? What can I do if a loved one is radicalized into a violent mentality promoting hatred?

We held an info session on March 21, 2023 to explore these questions and more, with resource people from our BRAVE Schools program.

A conversation with Loretta Ross, Tony McAleer, and Robert Örell (3/20/23)

Through the lens of the speakers’ lived experiences, we learn about the current context of hate groups and ideologies that promote hatred; the factors that lead people to join violent extremist groups; and the place of radical compassion in confronting the spread of hate in our communities.

One-page flyer:

BRAVE Schools outreachDownload (PDF)

Tony McAleer (left) and Robert Örell discuss the central role of childhood trauma in the lives of many who become involved in violent extremism, at an October 2023 BRAVE Schools training.

Press release:

KARUNA CENTER AWARDED FEDERAL GRANT TO PREVENT TARGETED VIOLENCE AND HATE IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOLS

Download (.docx)