5 Orlando middle schools getting full-time ‘safety coaches’ to stop violence

Young adults with ‘lived experience’ will connect with kids to understand, guide them

ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando City Commissioner’s unusual idea to put “safety coaches” in one troubled school to combat violence is now happening.

And now the idea is turning into something much bigger, expanding into several schools.

[TRENDING: Become a News 6 Insider]

Last December, when a 13-year-old started shooting outside Carver Middle School, children went running and distressed parents demanded change. So, Orlando City Commissioner Bakari F. Burns started that change.

“I did some research and came up with this concept of Safety Coaches - putting personnel into the schools that would be trained on de-escalation and recognizing mental health issues,” Burns said.

[RELATED: Orlando commissioner proposes ‘student safety coaches’ to curb school violence]

For the past year, the District 6 commissioner has been working on finding funding to hire the coaches - ideally young adults with real-life “lived” experience who can relate to kids and spend all day, every day in school dedicated to those kids.

Now, Commissioner Burns has the money. The City of Orlando approved $600,000 for the coaches, not just at Carver but at five Orlando middle schools after Burns pitched his plan to Orlando’s Families, Parks and Recreation Department and discovered it was interested in the same solution for similar violence.

“While I was laser-focused on Carver and District 6, these issues were happening in other schools throughout the City of Orlando,” Burns said. “And so we started to talk.”

Abe Morris was doing the talking as manager of the Youth and Families Division at Families, Parks and Recreation, including the nationally-implemented My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) mentoring program.

“I said, well, we’re doing something similar and seeing some of the same challenges across the city and other middle schools across the City of Orlando,” Morris said.

Morris said the safety coaches will be officially known as MBK Advocates.

“I see a lot of behaviors (in schools) but it’s hard to understand why those behaviors are happening,” Morris said. “So our MBK advocates are going to take a deeper dive within the communities along with the families to truly get to the root cause of what’s going on.”

Morris said the safety coaches, or advocates, get results. They have in Seattle and Wisconsin, where Morris used to work.

Starting in January, the coaches will be in Carver, Ace, College Park, Memorial and Roberto Clemente. Each of those middle schools will identify 35 high-risk students with whom the coaches will connect, get to know and figure out how to help.

“I’ve been in the middle schools, I’ve gone to each of those middle schools and talked with youth and they’re saying similar things,” Morris said. “Things like ‘Hey, sometimes I feel like I have to defend myself or sometimes I feel like I have no one to talk to or I can’t express what’s going on at home,’ and we are that bridge between the community and the schools to help bridge that gap and get a better understanding so we can communicate and get additional resources at home and in the schools.”

Commissioner Burns is confident the safety coaches will make the middle schools safer.

“And we believe they (the safety coaches) will get results because we will truly have the opportunity to connect with the students but also give them an opportunity to do an analysis of what’s going on in their home environments within their communities,” Burns said. “Because SROs are focused on what’s happening at schools, advocates will be concerned with what’s going on in the home and other issues, and what are other resources we can rally around their entire family to get results.”

The City of Orlando just hired a supervisor who will coordinate the coaches and will then hire the coaches themselves to be in place in January when kids go back to school.

Check out the Real Talk, Real Solutions podcast in the media player below:

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.