- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

Students and faculty at Bell Multicultural High School, in Columbia Heights, say their public efforts to reclaim the Hiatt Place corridor from drug dealers and criminals are having an effect, but that the three killings in a five-day period this month have made fear uncomfortably familiar once again.
Three young men were shot to death in the Northwest neighborhood surrounding the school, and with the pull of those triggers terrifying reality reintroduced itself to the Hiatt Place corridor.
The first youth was killed on Dec. 8, the second on Dec. 11 and the third the next day. Police say the shootings appear to be unrelated but perhaps linked to drugs.
"It gives a lot of our kids an insecure feeling," said Christian Munoz, 26, prevention program coordinator at Bell. "It brings them back to reality, that they need to watch themselves and who they're associating with."
Until the slayings, things were going relatively smoothly at Bell. Fewer drug dealers were hanging around the school and more police patrolled the school since parents and faculty held public rallies in November to denounce drugs and violence.
Bell Principal Maria Tukeva said the three killings show why the rallies were held in the first place to attract public attention, in hopes of pulling the community together. Of the recent shootings, Mrs. Tukeva said, "Unfortunately it's not that unusual. That's the point we've been trying to make."
The Hiatt Place corridor is a tiny half-block home to Bell High School, Lincoln Middle School, and two private schools. Every day, 1600 youngsters, with diverse backgrounds ranging from Latino to Vietnamese to African, converge on this small patch of turf. It has long been a hunting ground for drug dealers.
A month ago, a task force teamed up with community leaders, students and faculty to stand up to gangs, drugs and violence. They called on police for a greater presence, and they called on one another to work together to reclaim their neighborhood.
The neighborhood has seen encouraging fruit of their labor, school officials say.
"Before, you used to see these drug dealers hanging out," said Jimmy Carrasquillo, 27, student activities coordinator at Bell. He was referring to the bizarre scene that used to be a common sight. When the school day ended, police and faculty and staff from both Bell and Lincoln would stand mere feet from known drug dealers while students streamed past.
"Now," Mr. Carrasquillo said, "you don't see [the dealers] that often."
Confronting the community's problems publicly is helping the students, Ms. Tukeva said. "They see that they can talk about solutions and that they're part of the solution."
Student involvement is taking different shapes.
Bell's student government has set up a series of meetings to address current issues in the school, while during school, some students are writing letters to people in the community, "urging people to get involved," said Victor Molina, teacher, soccer coach and parent coordinator at Bell.
Mr. Molina is also attempting to get parents more involved with their children at school and at home, and Lincoln Recreation Center, right next to Lincoln Middle School, is trying to offer as many after-school activities as possible, in hopes of keeping children occupied and out of trouble.
Three violent deaths in a week, however, have reminded the school and the community that much remains to be done. For students at Bell and Lincoln, the outbreak of violence could be particularly discouraging.
"Something like this devastates the kids' morale," Mr. Carrasquillo said. "They're like, 'Just last week we were talking about nonviolence and now this happens.'"
Ms. Tukeva knows her school faces a long battle. "It's going to take a while," she said. "These patterns of violence didn't happen overnight."
She said she wants more community involvement, more police presence, and a Columbia Heights area drug program for young people.
The school will hold a candlelight vigil and march Wednesday to continue their efforts against drugs and violence, and will hold an international dinner afterward.

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