CSC Computer Scientist Gives Teens a Voice on Youth Violence
Brice Marsh believes that "giving teens a voice" could be the most important step in preventing violence in schools. "Everyone is talking to school officials, law enforcement and psychologists, but no one is asking the kids what they think," observed Marsh, a senior computer scientist with CSC.
"Teens feel powerless and powerlessness is the seedbed of violence." Disturbed by a rash of school shootings in 1998, Marsh applied his expertise in electronic meeting systems (EMS) to create Teen Think Tanks of America, Inc., a unique brainstorming event where teens combine their collective thinking and reach conclusions on the best ways to deal with school violence.
Working nights, weekends and vacation days, Marsh facilitated the world's first Teen Think Tank on School Violence in 1998 with a group of students from Birmingham, Ala. Since then, Marsh has coordinated and facilitated 25 Teen Think Tanks from California to Washington, D.C. with the use of GroupSystems WorkGroup Edition software for electronic meetings, produced by GroupSystems.com. This is the same software used by world leaders at the (Jimmy) Carter Collaboration Center to mediate international disputes.
Marsh, who works on the Program Information Systems Mission Service (PrISMS) contract at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., helped introduce EMS technology to CSC and uses the GroupSystems software almost daily in support of NASA missions.
A Teen Think Tank starts with an invitation to students from teachers, counselors and community leaders. Each session of 20 students consists of 25 percent "at-risk" students, 25 percent high achievers and 50 percent average students. Each participant works at a laptop computer that is networked into a file server. With full anonymity, students enter their thoughts and ideas about school violence during an intensive brainstorming session.
Electronic brainstorming is superior to traditional verbal brainstorming techniques for this teen audience. Ideas entered simultaneously and anonymously online flow faster than during a verbal discussion and give everyone an equal voice. The shy and soft-spoken student is heard just as clearly as the most outspoken kid in the class, and with no fear of criticism. Students can view everyone else's ideas, triggering new ideas and input.
During the brainstorming, teens generate hundreds of issues and causes for teen violence. Some of the most pervasive ideas to emerge include parental neglect, lack of acceptance by peers, and lack of values and ethics. The students, as a group, prioritize their ideas and narrow the list down to the
three to five most critical issues that teens face. Students then brainstorm solutions and action items for each issue. Again, hundreds of ideas are generated and the list is narrowed down to the top three to five best ideas for combating teen violence. They spend the next two hours expanding and enriching these ideas. The final outcome is a report with recommendations for students, parents, teachers, school administrators, law enforcement officers and legislators that will help them to predict and prevent youth violence. The results of each session are posted on the Internet at www.teenthinktanks.org.
"When students first enter, you can sense a feeling of trepidation and uncertainty," said Marsh. "When they leave three hours later, you can see in their faces, an enthusiasm and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. They realize that they are part of something that is making their community and
their school a safer place for teens."
So what are the reactions of the teenagers who have participated in Teen Think Tanks? These comments sum it up best: Chris, a 17-year-old boy, commented, "I've really enjoyed working on this
topic of school violence without having to argue my side in order to get a word in."
Julie, a 15-year-old sophomore, remarked, "All we need is a chance to have our ideas heard."
"The results were superior to what could have been completed in an argumentative manner among peers," said Matt, a 14-year-old freshman.
Fifteen-year-old, Adam, a sophomore, said, "I liked the feeling that I was going to make a difference in societies dealing with school violence."
Teen Think Tanks has been endorsed by a number of dignitaries and elected officials. In 1999, Marsh received the CSC President's Excellence Award for his work with Teen Think Tanks. Each week, Marsh is inundated with new requests for think tanks.
GroupSystems has fully licensed the use of its EMS software for Teen Think Tanks. However, Marsh is dependent on local sponsors to supply the $50,000 to $60,000 worth of equipment required to facilitate a think tank.
If you are interested in hosting a Teen Think Tank in your community, you can contact Brice Marsh at 256.508.9470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Teen Think Tanks of America, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, visit www.teenthinktanks.org.