| Program: || Project Harmony, Volusia County, FL |
| Contact(s): || Bobby Lambert, Coordinator: (904) 736-5995 |
| Purpose: || To reduce racial tensions among youth |
In 1994, increased racial tensions at the Deland Middle School forced school officials to explore ways of averting a serious incident. They sought assistance from the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, which developed Project Harmony, a program intended to cultivate student leaders in middle school and promote ethnic harmony.
In its pilot phase, teachers selected 20 eighth-grade male students who were considered natural leaders, and who had histories of being involved in racially-related conflicts. The young men received six hours of classroom training in violence diversion and multicultural awareness, and attended a weekend retreat at a sheriff's Youth Ranch. The results were dramatic: Within one month, the number of racially based conflicts at the school dropped from 10 to four, and none of the project participants were involved in the four incidents. After the pilot phase, the program was expanded to all 10 middle schools in the county. Each year, about 1,200 students participate, with groups of 20 young women and 20 young men attending separate five-day leadership retreats. The student instruction component has been expanded to include communication, group dynamics, environmental awareness, goal setting, and community service.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
Evaluation research has attempted to assess the impact of the Project Harmony program on its participants and on the overall environment of middle schools affiliated with the program. This research verifies that the program is having an impact. For example, one study compared students participating in the project to a randomly selected control group of non-participants who were also transitioning from the 7th to the 8th grade. The study indicated that Project Harmony students had fewer discipline referrals, better conduct scores, and more consistent attendance than control group students. Most dramatic was the difference in grade point averages: 58 percent of the Project Harmony students improved or maintained their GPA, compared to 40 percent of the control group students. Another study compared the social skills of the Project Harmony participants to a control group of students. In this study, Project Harmony students had measurably greater awareness of cultural diversity, as well as better group building and conflict resolution skills. The improvements of students involved in the Project Harmony program has a positive effect on the entire school. For example, after the project was implemented on a full scale, the number of racial incidents declined by 30 percent, the number of suspensions declined by 25 percent, and the number of overall discipline referrals declined by 31 percent.