School-based crime prevention programs can be enormously effective and I'll give you a few reasons why that is the case.
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant.
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally,
Some said, ‘ Put a fence 'round the edge of the cliff';
Some, ‘An ambulance down in the valley.'
This is the beginning of a poem that was written over 100 years ago about prevention and how effective it is to prevent people from falling off of the cliff instead of just having an ambulance down in the valley. I'll share the rest of the poem with you at the end of the article.
I'm a member of the board of directors for NOVA Principles. To understand where I'm coming from with this, let me share with you some of the history around this particular program. About 15 years ago, the community where I live was using a school-based prevention program that focused primarily on substance abuse. Drugs, alcohol, substances that can get kids into trouble or lead to other risky behaviors. It didn't meet the needs of our community very well. So, one of the police officers who was teaching this program in the schools was asked by the chief of police to develop a new program or to find a new program. He tried looking and he couldn't find one that met all of the criteria that the chief was looking for. And so he was tasked with developing this program.
He and I had an association through another assignment where we had worked together on a couple of different projects. He approached me to help with the curriculum. The NOVA Principles program was developed to address the needs of the kids in our community at a much higher level and in a much more comprehensive way than was being taught.
We understood from my experience in psychology that kids will make good decisions if they have the right principles installed in their thinking. A colleague of mine once said, “Every problem that we face is a problem with thinking.” And I think this is true of risky behaviors that kids face. Risky behaviors like substance abuse or crime or delinquency or uncover nobility. The things that we are trying to prevent could be best prevented if they were doing a different kind of thinking.
Now, a quick word about principle. Principles are natural laws like gravity. You never get up in the morning and think, “I wonder if gravity's on today.” It is. Principles like gravity don't depend on our believing in them in order to be true or consistent. I believe that principles determine all of life's outcomes. I know that's a bold statement but just see if that might be true according to your own filters of truth.
Principles determine all of life's outcomes so the curriculum that we developed for a school-based crime prevention program has to do with principles around how kids and other human beings on the planet make their decisions.
Here's an example: Study the situation. This is one of the principles that is used in this particular program. Study the situation means you look at the situation, you gather the data and the information. You do some thinking about that and then you make your decision based on the outcome of studying this situation.
What if a child has an opportunity for example to commit a crime with a group of peers? Alright, the opportunity presents itself. That child now gets to study the situation, think through another NOVA Principle which is cause and effect. Every choice has a consequence. The better my choices, the better my consequences. So, instead of simply telling kids, “Hey don't do drugs. Just say no,” which was effective to an extent. But it left a lot of things lacking. Instead of just saying, “Don't do drugs,” we are saying, “Hey, study the situation. Think it through. What is the cause-and-effect relationship here?”
Then we also apply a moral development model. So, I share that with you so that you will have a little bit of context around what's effective. We have research and clinical experience that supports the effectiveness of a principal-based school-centered prevention program for all kinds of risky behaviors including crime.
Now, you might be thinking at this point, “Okay, Dr. Paul, that sounds all well and good.” We've got the support for this program as an effective way to combat the risky behaviors that our kids are facing. You might be thinking, “Okay. Well, how do I get involved in that? What is it that I can do?”
If you want to explore the possibility of bringing the NOVA Principles program into your school or community, you can contact NOVA through novaprinciples.com. There's a contact button there. It'll link you right into the staff of NOVA Principles Foundation who can talk to you. They can answer your questions about how that's brought in to your community. We typically do this through training police officers to teach the curriculum in the schools. So typically, we need the cooperation of both the school and the police department for this to work really effectively.
Sometimes, we don't have everybody fully on board and there's still some ways to implement that. Contact NOVA Principles directly. Let them know that you saw this video and that I sent you their direction and there's some great people who work with us there at NOVA who can answer those questions and help you to figure out how to bring this into your community.
You can also go to the website novaprinciples.com and make a donation. NOVA Principles Foundation is a non-profit entity that is committed to creating prevention programs for these kids. And the poem probably says it best.
But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart was brim full of pity
For those who slipped over that dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and valley
Gave pound or gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.
For the cliff is all right if you're careful,' they said,
‘And if folks even slip or are dropping,
It isn't the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they're stopping.'
Then an old sage remarked, ‘It's a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they'd much better aim at prevention.
‘Let us stop at its source all this mischief,' cried he,
‘ Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally,
If the cliff we will fence we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.
‘Oh, he's a fanatic,' the others rejoined.
‘Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He'd dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
But no! We'll protect them forever;
Aren't we picking folks up just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence
While their ambulance works in the valley?'
But a sensible few who were practical, too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer,
They believe that prevention is better than cure
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them, then, with your purse, voice and pen,
And (while other philanthropists dally)
They will scorn all pretense and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.
Please support Nova principles by visiting novaprinciples.com where you can make a donation or you can connect with NOVA Principles personnel who will help you to figure out how to get this powerful program into your school or community.