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Students Act to Prevent Violence

Improvised skits, discussions part of MVP program

Sioux City, IA, March 14, 2008 –
Would you know emotional abuse if you saw it?

Would you intervene if you saw it happening?

That's what more than 300 juniors and seniors from Sioux City Community and South Sioux City Senior High Schools were asked Wednesday when they participated in the second annual Student Leadership Summit of Mentors in Violence Prevention, or MVP.

"MVP is a leadership program that focuses on gender violence prevention and education," said MVP's Alan Heisterkamp. "The purpose of our summit is to empower all of our high school kids to live safe and healthy lives and to become role models for others."

The leadership summit, held at the former Herbert Hoover Middle School, is the organization's first effort to include upperclassmen from all of the community's high schools.

"If the older, 'cooler' kids are speaking out against violence, the younger grades will follow suit," Heisterkamp explained.

He should know.

With more than 20 years of experience in the Sioux City Community School District, Heisterkamp initiated the MVP program through a grant from the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention while he was assistant principal at West High School more than eight years ago.

"This is a program that all of the high schools have incorporated into their curriculum," he said. "It gives kids the tools to create a safe and positive community. The lessons they learn in MVP will stay with them long after they leave the program."

Looking out into an auditorium filled with kids, Jeff O'Brien smiled to himself.

"This is the culmination of a lot of things," O'Brien, the national director of the Boston-based MVP Program and Wednesday's keynote speaker, said. "We have been training the teachers to spot the signs of abuse, and they have been training the kids."

Some of the small-group workshops kids could attend included discussions on cyberbullying, sexual assault and dating violence, gender violence and the role the media plays in the glorification of violence.

As O'Brien led a discussion on what constitutes various forms of violence, Kirsten Colt and Kent Martin assisted kids in the creation of skits aligned with MVP scenarios.

Colt, the director of "Acting Out" Theater Troupe for more than 10 years, said her group presents plays that are relevant to the lives of teens.

`"These little skits," said Martin, a West High School science teacher, "allow kids to come out of their shells and step into the shoes of another person."

In these improvised playlets, such topics as sexual harassment, peer pressure and dating violence alternated between comedy and drama.

"MVP allows us to confront the issue of violence head on," Heisterkamp said. "It is no longer enough to say: 'Holy smoke, what can I do?' Kids will, now, know exactly what to do. More importantly, they can take steps to prevent it from becoming a problem."

By Earl Horlyk, Journal staff writer

Article reprinted from the Sioux City Journal