Nonviolent, Caring Approach Turns Violent School Around

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Last year when American Paradigm Schools took over Philadelphia’s infamous, failing John Paul Jones Middle School, they did something a lot of people would find inconceivable. Rather than beef up the already heavy security to ensure safety and restore order, American Paradigm stripped it away. During renovations, they removed both metal detectors and barred windows. The police predicted chaos. But, instead, new numbers seem to show that in a single year the number of serious incidents fell by 90%.

The school was known as “Jones Jail” for its reputation of violence and disorder, and because the building physically resembled a youth correctional facility. Situated in the Kensington section of the city, it drew students from the heart of a desperately poor hub of injection drug users and street level prostitution where gun violence rates are off the charts

School officials state it wasn’t just the humanizing physical makeover of the facility that helped. They also credit the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a non-coercive, nonviolent conflict resolution regimen originally used in prison settings, which was later adapted to violent schools. AVP, when tailored to school settings, emphasizes student empowerment, relationship building and anger management over institutional control and surveillance. There are no aggressive security guards in schools using the AVP model; instead they have engagement coaches, who provide support, encouragement, and a sense of safety.


Jeff Deeney, “A Philadelphia School’s Big Bet on Nonviolence,” The Atlantic, July 18, 2013,

Student Researcher: Katie Barretta (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)