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Spying 101

A new anti-violence program in America’s public school system is teaching children how to spy on other students and to turn them in, using an anonymous toll-free line to a detective agency.

The W.A.V.E. America program was developed by Pinkerton Services Group, a division of the international security firm Pinkerton, Inc. The program began last month in North Carolina, and it is now expanding state by state until it becomes nationwide.

North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said his state adopted the program as part of the recommendation from his Task Force on Youth Violence and School Safety. He said the program offers a comprehensive violence prevention program combining a statewide toll-free tip line, a website, and an awareness campaign to teach parents and students how to be a part of preventing school violence.

Students receive hats, t-shirts and other W.A.V.E. items, and cash rewards are paid for tips on students with weapons. Students are taught to watch for certain types of behavior, such as depression, and to report students who they think may become violent.

Parents and school staff are also trained to be part of the network of people prepared to call tips into the toll-free number. The program includes classes, school assemblies and special sessions for parents and teachers.

All North Carolina schools have free access to this program, which is being paid for by state funds. Schools around the country may get involved on an independent basis, through school districts, or statewide, according to W.A.V.E. documents.

“A safe school environment is fundamental to helping North Carolina’s students succeed in school, and to making our public schools first in America by 2010,” Hunt said of the program. “Every school ought to be a safe one and W.A.V.E. America will help get every kid involved. This program is more than just a tip line, it teaches students and parents to look for the early signs of violent behavior and to resolve conflicts constructively.”

Despite the popularity of Hunt’s efforts using W.A.V.E. America, there are critics who say it is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Hitler Youth program of World War II. Although the majority of parents and teachers like the program, some disapprove of the notion of training students to spy on other students.

“They’re teaching kids to spy on each other,” said Mary Jensen, who has removed her son from school and is teaching him at home. “Teachers and parents will start reporting kids who are a little depressed. Before you know it, they’ll have everyone in counseling and on drugs.” She asked that her son and his school not be identified.

Every student and parent in the program receives a brochure detailing the early-warning signs of violence. When parents and students suspect there is a child who may become violent at some time in the future, they are instructed to call the toll-free number and report the student. They do not have to give their name when they call.

W.A.V.E. America was created by Hunt’s task force working together with Pinkerton. A contact list of law-enforcement personnel has been developed for each school in the state to use when a tip has been received by Pinkerton on the toll-free line.

Hunt says the W.A.V.E. America program is just one part of the effort he is making in North Carolina. He believes an after-school program of activities, mentoring programs, tougher weapons laws, tougher juvenile laws, and counseling and treatment programs for disruptive and violent students will all help to reduce violence in schools.

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