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Identifying at-risk students and finding them the help they need dominated the discussion at an Amherst School District forum on violence in schools.

About 70 people attended this week's forum, which one administrator called a "listening post" for the School Board. The event was prompted by the phone calls and other communications school officials received from the community after the Columbine shootings in Colorado.

Superintendent Dennis D. Ford said he was overwhelmed by requests that ranged from more information on building safety procedures to suggestions for various preventive measures, such as metal detectors, surveillance cameras, entry cards and other paraphernalia. But forum participants focused less on security devices and more on school efforts to recognize which students are likely to commit violent acts and how to deal with them through counseling or other preventive programs.

High school Principal Joseph Podgorski said his school personnel focus on these issues all the time and middle school Principal Diane Klein said she has a team that meets weekly to discuss at risk pupils. "We've already zeroed in on some ninth graders who have problems," said Podgorski, noting he worries the most about youngsters who don't get involved in school activities and who isolate themselves from school society. Charles Ewing, forensic psychologist and University at Buffalo Law School professor, spoke at the beginning of the forum. He observed that in most of the recent school shootings the perpetrators warned others of their plans. Podgorski said that after Columbine he talked with pupils about confiding in an adult should they be aware of such threats. He said the students indicated there are adults on staff that they trust. "I'm gratified our staff interacts with kids on such a basis that they feel this way," he said.

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