University of Chicago and non-profit organizations team up to reduce youth gun violence, improve school outcomes in Chicago

In an effort to combat violence involving Chicago public school students, the University of Chicago Crime Lab and community partners will launch a new program designed to help hundreds of boys avoid conflict and succeed in school and life.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab was established to find ways to reduce crime and violence by helping government agencies and non-profit organizations rigorously evaluate pilot programs designed to curb violence.

Beginning this month in 15 schools, the initiative, Becoming A Man (BAM)-Sports Edition, will provide hundreds of adolescent boys around Chicago with a combination of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and access to sports, with the hope of identifying an effective strategy for addressing the unique challenges facing many of the city's male youth. It is the first effort designed to help scholars scientifically measure the effectiveness of these two interventions. The MacArthur Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, McCormick Foundation, Polk Brothers Foundation, National Institute of Health, Spencer Foundation, and ComEd are among the organizations that provided funding for the $1 million program.

The first component is a group-based youth intervention designed by Youth Guidance, one of Chicago's oldest and most established social service agencies offering counseling and life-preparedness programs to at-risk Chicago public school students. "Becoming A Man (BAM)" uses cognitive behavior therapy to teach students, most of whom lack positive male role models, emotional self-regulation and social skill development to help them avoid potential conflicts. Youth Guidance has successfully implemented BAM in one Chicago high school and several elementary schools and plans to expand it to 14 other Chicago schools, where it will be available for seventh-, eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students.

"Sports Edition," the second intervention component, is a package of Olympic sports-including archery, boxing, judo, team handball, wrestling and weight lifting-developed by World Sport Chicago, a non-profit organization that serves as the "living legacy" of Chicago 2016.

World Sport Chicago works to increase the awareness of and involvement in Olympic and Paralympic sports among the city's youth. These after-school sports programs will offer safe and supervised recreational opportunities and be directed by coaches trained in the basics of the BAM program model to support students' social and emotional development. The sports component will serve as both an opportunity to reinforce the principles and values that students learn through BAM, but also provides a safe, structured environment for students to engage in positive activities during a potentially risk-filled time of the day.

Program akin to clinical trial in medicine
The University of Chicago Crime Lab will evaluate the program using rigorous standards, and scientific protocols akin to a clinical trial in medicine-another area where lives are at stake. If effective and cost-effective, it could become a model for anti-violence interventions that can be implemented across the country, according to Crime Lab co-directors Jens Ludwig and Harold Pollack, both professors at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab was launched in April 2008 in partnership with the City of Chicago, with the goal of developing a portfolio of rigorous experimental evaluations and cost-benefit analyses to identify the most efficient ways of addressing the major social problems facing the nation's cities.

Among the most important of these problems in Chicago is gun violence, which disproportionately harms low-income, minority youth living in Chicago's most disadvantaged neighborhoods. More than 500 Chicago Public School students have been shot since September 2007.

"Gun violence remains the leading cause of death for young people in Chicago and other cities across the United States. The ripple effect of youth gun violence is enormous," said Ludwig, the McCormick Foundation Professor in the School of Social Service Administration. "It has been shown to negatively impact the mental health, schooling, social and emotional development and even the physical activity level of young people who may not be gunshot victims but who live in neighborhoods with frequent shootings.

"Despite the persistence of the problem, as a society we have learned almost nothing definitive about what causes it or what can reduce it. This is in part because unlike medicine, another area where lives are at stake, we have not taken evidence and rigorous evaluation seriously. This program is an attempt to change that," said Pollack, Professor in the School of Social Service Administration.

Crime Lab selects program from among 30 applicants
In March 2009, The University of Chicago Crime Lab released a report entitled "Gun Violence Among School Age Youth in Chicago" and launched a design competition to find the most promising intervention ideas from community-based organizations, as well as city, state and federal agencies. An advisory committee made up of youth and community representatives considered more than 30 applications and selected the program developed by Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago.

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