OP-ED: Keeping Young People On The Right Track

BY QUEENS DA RICHARD BROWN

For the last 21 years, the Queens District Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education, the New York City Police Department, and a growing network of community partners, has spearheaded the STAR TRACK School Anti-Violence Program in the Rockaways. Working with 10 elementary, middle school and high schools, the program seeks to mentor young people to make healthy and safe choices, to resolve conflicts peacefully and to aim for the stars.

Throughout the school year, Assistant District Attorneys, Assistant Corporation Counsel and defense attorneys from Queens Law Associates meet twice a month with classes at the 10 schools, encouraging thoughtful discussions about how to meet the many challenges that face young people today. Many of the students will also come to visit the Kew Gardens Courthouse or the Jamaica Family Court for a first-hand look at how the justice system works.

Each March, there is a Say No to Violence Week event at each of the participating schools, featuring guest speakers such as former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, Detective Steven McDonald, who was paralyzed after being shot on duty by a 15-year-old boy, and many others who focus on anti-violence themes. There are also school-wide poster and essay contests, and creative choral, dance and theater performances by the students.

An Interagency Council, chaired by the District Attorney’s office, brings together school officials, law enforcement officials, parents, local legislators, community leaders and not-for-profit groups several times a year to build and strengthen relationships, share information, coordinate community anti-violence strategies, and increase awareness about available programs and services for young people.

Every May, in conjunction with the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the New York Junior Tennis and Learning, more than 800 of the STAR TRACK students spend a day at the National Tennis Center receiving tennis instruction from volunteer professionals, watching exhibition games and learning about sportsmanship and teamwork.

In the two decades that the program has been in operation, more than 15,000 students have participated in STAR TRACK. As each school year ends, we are delighted to see how the students have grown and matured, how much they have learned about friendship, personal responsibility and service to the community and how much potential they have for continued success in the future.