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Bulger tragedy sparks drama on violence

The Jamie Bulger tragedy in Liverpool three years ago has triggered a school project using music and drama to reinforce the message that those who break the law will be punished.

Conceived by the Louisiana Council for Music and Performing Arts, This Is My School, This Is My World shows violence as an age-old problem and traces its evolution from swords to guns.

The pilot programme follows a recent study in the United States which showed that children as young as nine were carrying sticks to defend themselves. Four years later the same children had progressed to knives or guns.

The school drama begins with the acting out of the duel in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which ultimately causes the deaths of four young people. It then moves to a scene from West Side Story, which itself retold the Romeo and Juliet saga in a 1950s New York gangland setting.

The final scene shows a modern encounter between two gang members in a confrontation which ends with a girl being accidentally killed. The drama ends with the young gunman being sentenced to life in prison with no parole.

While all this is going on, two choruses of youngsters chant a commentary on the action which relates its relevance to young people today. One group has "hope" written on its T-shirts; the other "despair".

The project has won the endorsement of the Louisiana board of elementary and secondary education, the state superintendent of education and the board of the Louisiana Educational Television Authority.

Lucile Blum, who developed the project and serves as the communications chair of the Louisiana Council for Music and Performing Arts, said the project could be used with younger children. She said that early intervention was necessary to stem the epidemic of violence among young people.

Mrs Blum said that five schools in Louisiana had already staged the project and a further 100 were planning to do so. There had also been enquiries from other states.

She said that the project was triggered by the horrific death in 1993 of Jamie Bulger, the youngster who was snatched from a shopping arcade by two other children and killed.

"Violence is a very serious problem and the only way to stem the tide is to get the children to realise it is their responsibility. You can preach at children, but I hope that if we get them to take part in this play they will realise they can do something about it.

"If you get them involved in something they enjoy and then bring in the message about violence, there is more chance they will take notice."

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