Pilot Program in Kansas City Keeps Kids "Coming Back"

An innovative afterschool program in three Kansas City, Kansas neighborhoods is one of the early "success stories" for the CML's Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media.

Using a peer counseling model, high school seniors and college students were trained by consultants from University of Missouri/Kansas City to conduct the eight sessions of the Beyond Blame Middle School curriculum with groups of younger students. The three afterschool sites included a Boys and Girls club in central Kansas City, a Catholic parish in a blue collar community and a youth center serving high-risk young people from foster care homes. A total of 75 youngsters attended the three groups.

One of the most positive results, according to Whitney Vanderwerff, PhD, director of the National Alliance for Nonviolent Programming, a national grassroots agency that initiated the local planning leading to the pilot program, is that the kids kept coming back week after week.

Attendance is one of the great challenges of voluntary afterschool programs, she explained, crediting the high attendance rate with the fact that Beyond Blame is video based and that the program deals with real world issues the kids are facing everyday. 90% of the participants personally knew someone who had been killed or was seriously hurt by an act of violence.

A basic pre- and post-test evaluation also provided some notable results according to LeeAnn Smith, local coordinator of the Kansas City coalition which sponsors the program with funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffmann Foundation,


"I've learned more how to control my anger...and also that you can solve your problems other than just beating on somebody and shooting them."

–Anthony Green, Age 13

Before starting the program, 17% of the youngsters thought that violence was a "good way" to solve problems. Following the 8 weeks of discussing and analyzing the video clips and group activities, only 6.9% agreed with the statement. Thirteen-year-old Anthony Green noted he had "learned to separate TV violence from regular violence and to know not to handle my decisions like they do on TV."

The Beyond Blame curriculum includes a wealth of "kid-friendly" concepts, says Smith, including jolts per minute i.e., any bang-bang-bang sequence that captures the audience's nonstop attention in action programming. Once they grasp such concepts, she explains, they can better understand how media programming is crafted to use violence to attract viewers and keep them watching.

Alternatives to violent entertainment are also explored. One activity challenges kids to come up with a cast, plot and setting for a movie that would attract large crowds and be profitable but not include any violence. The result from 25 boys in inner city Kansas City? A movie about basketball and romance, featuring Shaquille O'Neal, Halle Berry, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.

Through discussion the participants also began to question why they often laughed in response to screen violence. Beyond Blame gets young people to start thinking about the violence and how it affects them and what they can do about it so that they are not as desensitized to violence and are not as fearful, Ms. Smith said, She notes that as the older teens worked with the younger ones, they, too began to be more vigilant about the violent images they were exposed to on TV and in movies.

The Kansas City Alliance was so pleased with the three pilot groups that the project expanded to 10 additional sites.