Newly elected Antioch School Board Trustee Debra Vinson, Velma Wilson and local youth at the Deer Valley Plaza, last Friday afternoon.
By John Crowder
A small group of parents has decided to be proactive in addressing problems at a local shopping center by taking steps to engage students as they pass through Deer Valley Plaza (DVP) at the end of the school day.
DVP has been at the epicenter of student violence and disruptive behavior over the past few months. As widely reported in the news media, a group of students involved in fights and other troubling actions at the center, just down the street from Deer Valley High School (DVHS), has led some of the businesses located there to lock their doors at the end of the school day. The businesses, mainly fast food restaurants and Starbucks, have kept their doors locked from the time school lets out until most students have passed through and dispersed from the area.
Velma Wilson, a youth education advisor with the NAACP East County Branch, and a parent of two students who attend Antioch schools, determined to act to change that. For the last few weeks, she and others from the community, including her husband, Clarke, and Antioch Mayor Wade Harper, have been stationing themselves in the parking lot of DVP under a blue tent. There, they talk with students who come by, offering them sodas and snacks, along with words of encouragement. Wilson said that the idea for meeting with students had come from Harper, and it was his tent they were using.
On Friday, November 7, Herald staff dropped by the Plaza, unannounced, to take a first-hand look at what was happening. On that day, Wilson was joined by her husband, her two children, and two other adults, Darice Ingram and Debra Vinson. Harper was unable to be there on that day, as, according to Wilson, he was visiting a security guard who had been wounded in a gun battle in Antioch outside a local Starbucks earlier in the week.
Darice Ingram, a founder of Parents Connected, and also a member of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) personnel commission, invited students who were passing by to stop and talk. She encouraged those she spoke with to be serious students, and, among other things, to consider taking Advanced Placement classes and to focus on preparing for college. “Most students are just kids that need to know someone cares, someone holds them accountable, and expects great things from them,” she said. She also praised Wilson for taking the initiative, noting that Wilson had provided treats for the students out of her own pocket.
Debra Vinson, who was elected last Tuesday to the AUSD board of trustees, was also in the parking lot greeting students. As they approached, she would introduce herself, ask their names, and how their school day had been. She said that, as a school board member, she wanted to be visibly involved and make sure she was accessible to everyone with a stake in the schools, including the children who attend them. “Safety concerns are shared by everyone in Antioch,” she said, “and I want to see, first-hand, what is happening with our students.”
The impression left by observing these interactions was far different than the one derived from the recent news reports. First, not all students were from DVHS. Several students who came up to meet with the parents stationed in the parking lot were from Dallas Ranch Middle School, a bit of a walk from the site. Wilson said that students from four different schools routinely came by, or passed through, the center after school let out each day.
The students were also very polite. “I have one rule,” said Wilson, “that students look me in the eye and shake hands.” Far from the belligerence frequently attributed to teens, the students on Friday seemed more shy than anything else, only reluctantly taking the sodas and snacks offered by Wilson and the others.
“Jesus said, ‘suffer the little children to come unto me,’ and that is what I want to do,” said Wilson. “We can choose community over chaos. It’s imperative that we come together as a community to be better role models for our youth.”
Wilson is in the DVP parking lot every Tuesday and Friday, from 3:00 until 4:30, when school is in session.