Revamped Overcoming Violence Program Making an Impact in Boston City Schools

Colleen Locke | March 16, 2015
Tanya Brussa-Pagan approached UMass Boston about partnering on the Overcoming Violence curriculum.

Tanya Brussa-Pagan approached UMass Boston about partnering on the Overcoming Violence curriculum.
Image by: Kaitlin Thurlow

What I’ve noticed is that we’ve been breaking those walls between law enforcement and young people.

Updated Curriculum Unveiled in November

Members of the Boston Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office say the violence prevention curriculum for Boston middle- and high-school students updated by UMass Boston and its partners last fall is already making an impact.

“We’ve talked to hundreds of kids already and what I’ve noticed is that we’ve been breaking those walls between law enforcement and young people,” Tanya Brussa-Pagan said last week at a forum sponsored by the College of Public and Community Service and Office of Community Relations.

Brussa-Pagan is director of community relations for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and a new student in UMass Boston’s master’s program in human services. She said that the DA’s office and the Boston Police Department have taken the seven-week curriculum into a half-dozen schools.

"More kids are talking to us,” Brussa-Pagan said. “It’s a huge step forward, and what I see is the curriculum is working."

Her sentiments were echoed by Officer Sean Rooney of the Boston Police Department’s School Unit.

“I feel like kids get a lot out of it,” Rooney said.

Rooney says unlike some large cities, where a few gangs dominate, there are approximately 150 small street gangs in Boston. One growing trend is for 30 to 40 people to show up for a fight, with video of the altercation posted later on social media. While meeting with the students, Rooney discusses differences between telling the truth and snitching, and why a police officer might want to approach someone.

The Overcoming Violence curriculum, which was previously called Understanding Violence, was updated and rewritten by Professor of Human Services Sylvia Mignon and graduate students in the College of Public and Community Service starting in the fall of 2012.

“We looked at the old curriculum and each week we worked and worked and took one another to task and came up with a draft,” Mignon said.

John Jessoe, director of the UMass Boston Video Production Center, and his staff shot footage for the Overcoming Violence video at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. Chancellor J. Keith Motley, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, and Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins appeared in the clip. 

During the 20-minute video, which was shown at Wednesday’s forum, viewers hear from a former gang member who was incarcerated for two years, and from people who have lost loved ones to violence.

“Overcoming violence is a choice,” Tompkins said in the video. “Choose wisely.”

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Greg Henning and Shawn Webb of the Boston Centers for Youth and Families Street Team also took part in the forum.

About UMass Boston
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit

Tags: community , community relations , cpcs , violence prevention

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