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Youths want to open schools to volunteers, shut out guns

If Utah sixth-graders were legislators, they would pass a law to put metal detectors in school entryways.

Sen. Karen Hale, D-Cottonwood Heights, recently did a role-playing exercise with students at Canyon View Elementary. Metal detectors in school was the premier issue they chose to pass in their mock legislature, she said. "They wanted to feel safe in their schools again."Morgan related the story during a community meeting at the Holladay Library Friday. At the Youth Issues Alliance-sponsored gathering, a dozen residents met with a panel of legislators and educators to discuss school-related issues.

The meeting was the first of several the alliance will host at Salt Lake County libraries in the upcoming weeks.

Initiatives decided at the meetings will be taken to an annual conference of Salt Lake-area high school students, usually held in January. There, the students draft a letter to legislators discussing the issues most important to them, said Ruth Steed, executive director of the alliance. The process empowers teens because it teaches them how to make a difference and initiates them to the legislative process, she said.

Those gathered at Friday's meeting agreed that guns do not belong in schools. But their discussion centered on measures to prevent teen violence rather than gun legislation.

"It's interesting to see talk move to guns in school and putting metal detectors in school when really, what we need to think about is the way we treat each other," said Margaret Rose, a health education specialist who works with the Utah State Office of Education.

Most of the group's initiatives centered on the way adults treat children. While youths are often viewed as "little bundles of pathology that need to be cured," adults are really the problem, Rose said.

Most of the fault of teen delinquency falls on the shoulders of parents and the community, agreed members of the panel.

The panel and residents drafted the following initiatives to prevent teen violence:

Community businesses should be encouraged to form partnerships with the schools. Employees should be rewarded for volunteering time at schools.

Schools should be open into the evening hours for after-school activities. Latchkey children need a place to do constructive activities, receive homework help and develop values under the supervision of positive role models.

Communication between school teachers and those using the school after-hours should be fostered. Programs should draw on community resources.

The Legislature should promote and fund the teaching of values, including social skills, conflict resolution, mentoring, anger management, tolerance, diversity, job training and empathy.

Steed said too often she hears talk of legislation to increase the number of youth detention centers or "kid prisons."

"It doesn't have to get to that point" she said.