New Bern, NC – INTRO - A part of the social studies program for 6th graders at Newport Middle School seeks to curtail a problem that has vexed larger urban populations. George Olsen has more.
Educating area youngsters to compete in today's marketplace is typically a focus and not keeping them out of gangs. Yet that's what Newport Middle School is aiming toward.
10:43 When I first saw the name of the program, it kind of startles you here in eastern rural NC we're discussing a situation you'd think is more of a concern in larger urban areas, but we cannot close our eyes or turn our backs to the idea that some of the things and the reasons that gangs do form.
Bud Lanning is the principal at Newport Middle School. He's discussing the Gang Resistance Education and Training program or GREAT which his middle schoolers take part in one-day-a-week for a 13-week period. And while gangs in rural eastern North Carolina to some might seem an oxymoron, Newport Police Chief Jeff Clark emphasizes they're already here.
07:47 There are some identified gangs in the area MS13 the worst case scenario we've seen here is the beating of an individual a few weeks back where several individuals from here in the community who had formed what they call a Russian Mafia, the name they were calling themselves had beaten a young man almost to death. So we know the gangs are here, we're just trying to get a handle on it before it gets out of hand.
In some ways referring to the program as gang resistance is a misnomer both Chief Clark and Principal Lanning frequently mention character education when discussing the program. They say GREAT is more likely to put kids in a position where they have the ability to say no to dangerous behavior, such as joining a gang as compared to just pointing out the gang and saying stay away. Bud Lanning.
03:52 Peer groups and the pressure that peers bring on to one another, but a very strong magnet for kids in the pre-adolescent and adolescent years, and we felt that taking the positive step towards influencing kids as to what types of pressures and peer-pressures they may be introduced to as they reach the teen years was a good thing, that they recognize before they got there.
Part of the program is fairly simple acknowledging that kids have an urge to belong and pointing out the myriad opportunities to belong to something already there without having to resort to a gang. Chief Clark.
16:08 There could be more, but there are certainly a lot of avenues. There are any number of after school programs, they have band, art, a lot of those have after school programs. There are ample sports opportunities in the middle school for them. There could always be one more. There's certainly ample opportunity for them to become involved in positive things, outside the negative.
Peer pressure tends to increase as children get older which is why Chief Clark hopes to expand GREAT into the 5th grade next school year. Still, at times it's hard to wrap your arms around the idea of gang resistance education at that young age, though if parents had any initial reluctance, they've shed it along the way. Principal Bud Lanning.
08:29 When they found out what the curriculum was and we walked them through the curriculum that it was a lot of decision making, a lot of dealing with peer pressure, the things that cause kids to gravitate to the false comfort of a gang situation, they were very supportive of the fact that the values that they want in their children and they were trying to teach at home were incorporated in a program that helps them deal with their peers in school, their community and that caused a lot of acceptance.
All involved say they like the idea of being proactive to a potential influx of gang activity, rather than reactive after the fact. Chief Clark notes they've seen signs of gang activity and he's hoping that GREAT can suppress the deadly numbers that can follow.
02:40 Homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for kids and young adults ages 15-24, so that's the thing we didn't want to have youth feeling like there was nothing for them to do, reaching out and getting involved with a gang, getting a weapon and ultimately leading to a death or someone becoming addicted to drugs at a very young age.
I'm George Olsen.