Following the 1997 shootings at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, SPAVA's founder, Dr. Timir Banerjee, M.D., decided to address the problem of adolescents' lack of respect by developing a program to help youth value respect, honor, and integrity. The program seeks to help youth cope with difficulties and conflicts without fighting. In 1999, the first SPAVA Board of Directors was organized and began meeting. SPAVA obtained a non-profit t, tax-exempt status and recruited community support from Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), the Archdiocese of Louisville, Junior Achievement, the University of Louisville (U of L), and Walden Theatre. SPAVA procured publicity via newspaper ads, a booth at the Kentucky State Fair, a video shown at U of L ball games, and sponsorship of 1,400 tickets for the Walden Theatre play entitled “Bang, Bang, and You're Dead.” SPAVA obtained a citywide proclamation by then Louisville mayor for SPAVA Day on the day of a SPAVA public walk in Cherokee Park. Under the auspices of the JCPS Student Relations and Safety Office, the Volunteer Talent Center (VTC) became SPAVA's coordinator and began recruiting and training local volunteer mentors. In October 1999, mentors began their work in classes at seven schools and added another 22 classes at 15 additional JCPS schools the following February. In SPAVA's first year, a total of 23 active volunteers served as mentors. The mentors worked with students in public schools, private and parochial schools by conducting five one-hour sessions over a five-week period. Schools also began creating SPAVA clubs so that groups of students could continue their work with an adult mentor beyond their classroom sessions. According to Scott Furkin, one of SPAVA's original mentors, SPAVA "is a program that we take into the schools to help kids learn to control anger, to manage conflict, to diffuse stressful situations, and to channel their energy and aggressiveness into positive outlets." The informal classroom discussions also defined and stressed the significance of such concepts as compassion, honesty, dignity, justice, knowledge, responsibility, and self-discipline. SPAVA established an annual scholarship program for SPAVA students for which it raised and awarded funds for post-high-school education. Also, SPAVA required its students to engage in service projects in order to spread SPAVA's messages to others. The development and evolution of SPAVA's curriculum and methods of evaluation continue to reflect the suggestions and recommendations of all involved with the program.

"We want our children to learn to negotiate, arbitrate, discuss and think first rather than pull out a gun. We will be our brothers' keeper ...” We want to promote the positives. The good within each of us has to be promoted. We want to help each student feel as though he or she is an A-quality human being. If I feel like I'm an A, I treat others as A's."

Dr. Timir Banerjee


The SPAVA Program, coordinated through the JCPS Volunteer Talent Center (VTC), is presented by trained volunteer mentors in ten weekly, 45-minute sessions to individual classes of students in P1 (kindergarten) through grade twelve at area community centers. In additional local parochial and private schools, the SPAVA Program is presented on a similar basis. Requests for SPAVA can come from any community center director, parochial school principals, counselors, individual teachers, and other staff members. Dr. Banerjee personally contacts various parochial and private schools to offer the program and to verify prior requests. The implementation of the program in requesting centers and classes, however, depends on the availability of trained, volunteer mentors.

Mentor recruitment and training of adult volunteers are recruited from the local community at large and from local universities to serve as mentors in the SPAVA Program. Dr. Banerjee has been the chief recruiter but the VTC also actively recruits mentors. The VTC seeks to retain all mentors year after year because the program depends on the availability of volunteer mentors. Two-hour training sessions at various locations around the city are required for new volunteer mentors and are offered to returning mentors as well. After mentors become acquainted with one another, the history, purpose, and goals of SPAVA are presented, as well as a review of the suggested curriculum and of additional resources available for use by mentors. Mentors complete a state-required background check form that is then processed to allow them to work with students in the community. Mentors also indicate their grade-level preference of the student with whom they wish to work, the dates and times they wish to work, and the date they can begin mentoring. While the proposed ten-week curriculum can be followed as suggested, mentors are encouraged to adapt lessons and to share their personal experiences that are related to discussion topics as they see fit. A chief strength in SPAVA is the mentor's relationship with his or her students. The key requirement is that the four goals of SPAVA be achieved.