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Students Agenda Shapes After School Program

Smoking in the bathroom and graffiti on the walls were the first objects of concern when Sarah Corso, a seventh-grade English teacher at Hayfield Secondary School, addressed the students. At this after-school meeting of Youth Crime Watch, Corso outlined a plan of action for the seventh- and eighth-graders.

"I'm just going over the agenda, then I'll give everyone their jobs," she said.

Twelve students attended the meeting, and after a while, they broke into groups. Some hung up posters, while others worked on a letter to the principal.

Allyson Holt, 13, and Gary Rojas, 12, grabbed a roll of tape and a chair to stand on. It was Allyson's first meeting, but already she was trying to make an impact on her fellow classmates.

"It's better use of your time," she said. "We do the best we can, at least were doing something."

Youth Crime Watch (YWC) is a national organization with a mission "to create a crime-free, drug-free and violence-free environment in our schools and neighborhoods," as stated on YCW’s Web site. The YCW chapter at Hayfield is the only one in the area. It's been active about a month. So far, Corso feels they've made an impact. She got a start-up kit from the national organization but asked the students what the problems were around Hayfield.

"It's slow, but it's definitely growing," she said.

Terry Modglin, YCW executive director, feels that the student ownership is important. Letting the students establish the goals for each individual group is important.

"It's hard sometimes for those kids to go against the grain," he said. "The kids feel that they own it."

Smoking in the bathroom was one thing they wanted to tackle. Corso heard about it from the students themselves.

"That's really been bothering the kids," she said.

School resource officer Sally McGowan helped out as well, but she keeps her participation at a minimum. She feels it's better if the students do it themselves.

"I lend my support, but I want it to be a school program instead of a police program," she said.

YOUTH CRIME Watch started in 1979 in Miami-Dade County, Fla., when a community was outraged about the rape of a 12-year-old girl. North Miami Beach High School had the first pilot program, and it's spread from there. According to Modglin, it has spread to 36 states, with Wyoming joining in March, as well as a few countries around the world. In the United States, there are 1,500 groups.

Sgt. Ed O'Carroll of the Fairfax County Police Department is involved with the program at Hayfield.

"This is the only school in Fairfax County. She's setting the mark in the county," he said.

Modglin noted interest from Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) in the past and attempts to get the program going in Annandale. Another program was introduced at Lake Braddock two years ago but has since folded, according to Modglin.

Although the national program has several components as possibilities for schools, Corso believed only a few pertain to Hayfield. Vandalism and graffiti and drugs were on the list, and smoking in the bathroom fell under that.

"We only do what the kids bring up," Corso said.

Corso and O'Carroll plan on bringing it up at a crime-prevention conference at Tyson's Corner in March.

"It's a statewide crime prevention meeting," Corso said.

It's slow to get started, but Corso does plan on enlisting more students and possibly more teachers as time goes on. She will inform the School Board of their progress and hope the word gets to other schools.

"I'd like to recruit any other teachers who are interested, I'm sure the School Board will want to know about this," she said.

At the end of a long school day, somehow Corso has enough energy to continue her influence on students. Although she didn't have aspirations to join the police force, she does remember a criminal justice class in high school that left an impression.

"There must be something in the water," she joked. "The kids energize me."