Schools that provide safe and rewarding educational environments capable of engaging youths in learning, attracting high student attendance, and producing high levels of student achievement are an important part of the infrastructure of well-functioning communities. Schools are not only charged with the socialization of young people but they also drive the economic and social development of the communities in which they are located. Below you will find information on what schools can do to play their part in a community-wide prevention effort.
What are the Signs?
VERY EARLY YEARS AGES 0-5
- Hypervigilance to threat
- Cognitive impairment, including verbal deficits
- Insecure attachment to a primary caregiver
- Early aggression and acting-out behavior
6 YEARS AND UP
- Antisocial behaviors
- Having been rejected and/or victimized by peers
- Poor parental monitoring
- Alcohol/drug use
- Negative life events
- Mental health problems
- Poor school performance
- Disconnected from school
- Feeling unsafe at school
RISK FACTORS – SPECIFIC TO COMMUNITY
- Many area youth are involved in illegal behavior
- Availability and use of firearms
- Availability and use of drugs
- Low neighborhood attachment
- Many principals in schools with gang problems do not recognize or admit a problem: In a large sample of secondary schools with gang problems (defined as more than 15 percent of students reporting that they belonged to a gang), only one-fifth of principals said their school had a problem.
- Providing a safe environment so that students are not fearful may be the single most important thing schools can do to prevent gang involvement; we need to test this proposition rigorously.
- Data show that youths at the greatest risk of gang participation are not reached by traditional, school-based preven-tion programs; youth who have left school require alternative learning environments to engage them in learning and prevention program
SUSTAINING GANG-PREVENTION EFFORTS
- Target, culturally sensitive alternative programs for youth
- Bullying prevention programs
- Positive youth development programs
- School activities intended to prevent gang involvement are likely to be ineffective if they fail to incorporate elements of demonstrated efficacy or are poorly implemented; therefore, educational leaders should carefully consider whether programs (1) make efficient use of educational time, (2) use state-of-the-art methods, (3) have been shown to be effective in preventing problem behavior or gang involvement, and (4) are implemented as designed.
- Assessments of gang risks, as well as the reach and usefulness of current prevention activities, are necessary to guide future action. Systematic self-report gang involvement and victimization surveys should be used to supplement ex-isting, inadequate mechanisms — such as school or principal-reported incident or suspension rates — which do a poor job of surfacing emerging problems, including school safety problems.
INTEGRATING GANG PREVENTION EDUCATION & THE CREATION OF POSITIVE ALTERNATIVES
Educate young people about the costs and consequences of gang involvement. Gang members may risk personal injury from rival gangs, injury to family members, and even death. To combat the growing number of gang-related crimes and offenses, new laws now support some of the stiffest penalties for gang-related offenses. These include larger fines and longer sentences—15 years or more for gun violations, drug trafficking, and violence.
Keep youth in school and enrolled in positive activities when the school day ends. Find ways to help at-risk youth by developing interesting school-wide pro-grams or taking part in the National Crime Prevention Council’s Community Works curriculum. Help create and coordinate afterschool learning and recreational activities for latchkey youth, so that they do not participate in delinquency during these critical afternoon hours.
Raise awareness among parents and students of the signs of gang activity. When students understand gang characteristics, they will know who and what to avoid. Advocate for a school dress code that prohibits any clothing or symbols that suggest gang membership.
Provide students with opportunities to practice refusal skills. Create realistic scenarios and allow young people to role-play appropriate responses. Promote self-esteem and responsible decision-making; these developmental skills will bolster youth confidence and assertiveness
Make sure your school is a designated drug-free and gun-free site and that your students are aware of this status. Declaring your school a safe zone allows students to feel protected. Criminal violations within these zones are serious and carry stiff fines and penalties.
Engage students in community service or service-learning projects. Allow students to select, plan, and execute a project that addresses a concern or issue in their school or community. Community service can increase positive attitudes toward others, the community, and the future.
Many gang members have safely left gangs. Encourage youth who want to leave a gang to talk to an adult they trust and respect. You may need to direct these young people to appropriate social services, victim service providers, crisis hotlines, or other community support agencies. For help locating local vic-tim service providers, go to the Office for Victims of Crime, Directory of Crime Victim Services website. You can also refer youth to The National Center for Victims of Crime Helpline (800-FYI-CALL), which is open for calls Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 8:30 PM EST. Hopeline (800-442-HOPE) is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Both crisis hotlines will speak with youth and help them find local resources to help youth leave gangs. Community religious leaders can also provide counsel and assistance to youth in need.