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Sliwa talks of school violence at SJU forum

In the 21st century, being a teacher is about more than getting students to learn reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, Guardian Angel leader Curtis Sliwa told a crowd of teachers Monday at a seminar on school violence at St. John’s University in Jamaica.

“You have an opportunity to make a difference,” Sliwa explained to the group of about 130 teachers as he talked to them about school violence and troubled students. “You could, incredibly, be the one human being who took the time to care about that student.”

Sliwa encouraged the crowd of public school teachers to take the time to work with troubled students and told teachers they needed to keep their eyes open for signs of potential violence.

“It’s really incumbent upon you to put your periscope up,” Sliwa said.

Monday’s event was the first two-hour seminar on preventing school violence hosted at St. John’s by the Guardian Angels, an activist group formed by Sliwa in 1979 and made up of volunteers dedicated to preventing violence. The Guardian Angels were established in 1979 by Sliwa, who formed civilian street and subway patrols to help drive down crime in the city. The members usually wear a distinctive uniform of a bright red beret and jacket.

Teachers seeking certification are required by the state Education Department to attend a seminar on preventing school violence, and the Guardian Angels are approved by the state to offer such programs. Similar seminars will probably be offered in the future, a spokesman for St. John’s said.

Jerrold Ross, dean of St. John’s School of Education, said the seminar “will help teachers — first timers and veterans — recognize and prevent violence in our classrooms. Curtis Sliwa knows, first hand, about working with kids who are tough. What better way can we prepare teachers than to bring his practical side of working with them into the classroom.”

The seminar, which drew teachers from throughout the five boroughs, focused on not only recognizing the signs of violence but what teachers should do when confronted by violent students.

Run by Guardian Angels Lisa Cree and Joseph Ventimilgia, teachers were offered several scenarios about violence in school, such as what to do if a student makes a threat against you.

“It’s important to respond when somebody makes a threat against you,” Cree told the audience. “In this situation, if somebody makes an executable threat against you, we know people have the ability to get guns and come back to school with something — because that’s what’s happened.”

Cree also seconded the suggestion of one teacher in the audience, who said teachers who are threatened should investigate the child’s background to see what’s going on in that student’s life.

“That child could be reaching out for help,” the teacher said.

Ventimiglia encouraged teachers not to ignore threats.

“Don’t let it go by,” he said. “Immediately talk to the youngster.”

The seminar also focused on signs of potentially violent behavior in a student, including disruptive behavior in school, abuse at home and exposure to violence in the community.

Parental involvement is also key to preventing violence, the Guardian Angels said as the teachers in the audience nodded their heads in approval.

“It seems like an uphill battle to get parent involvement,” Ventimilgia said. “But when the parents do get involved it makes a world of difference.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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