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SCHOOLCHILDREN SHOUT DOWN VIOLENCE

Hundreds of Utah grade-schoolers held out their left hands. Then they formed the peace sign with their right hand and superimposed it. "Stop the violence!" they shouted.

Welcome to the annual Life Skills Conference, a three-day event sponsored by the Utah Federation for Youth. Thursday, elementary-age children gathered at the Utah State Fairpark. Friday, junior high and high school students were to congregate for programs targeted to their age levels. The event culminates Saturday with families.The children sang along with Sgt. Mark Gil, an Austin, Texas, officer who also performs anti-gang, anti-violence rap as "Police Ice." His theory is simple: He likes kids. Kids like rap. And somebody needs to get out a positive message that youths don't need drugs, alcohol or violence.

Across the Fairpark, Positive Air gymnasts Michael Brook and Charles Manning were delivering the same message with a vastly different medium: the trampoline.

As they performed aerobatic feats, Manning told the children, "Don't settle for second best. Don't let your friends settle for second best."

Added Brook, "High performance living means taking a stand for the truth."

For the rest of the morning, the young participants explored "natural high" adventures. The athletically inclined tried their luck learning Tai Chi, hip-hop dance steps, basketball, golf and soccer clinics, a simulated mountain climb on a wall and a National Guard rope bridge challenge.

They had dozens of other choices, as well, including leather crafts, learning to report and edit, gardening, pen and ink art, juggling and unicycling, making balloon animals, puppetry and genealogy.

Some just chose to wander around the exhibits. The National Guard and Green Berets brought in a helicopter and lots of heavy equipment for the youths to examine. They could visit a mobile radar site and watch how aircraft and weapons are controlled. Also on site were fire trucks, the Utah Highway Patrol Batmobile, Salt Lake Police Department's talking car and ambulances.

Hawkwatch brought birds of prey they could study up close.