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Adults discuss race on Salt Lake's west side

Adults discuss race on Salt Lake's west side

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The kids who are part of diverse student bodies seem to get along when they are in school, but when they leave campus, some are recruited by gangs along racial and ethnic lines.

That's the observation of Ron Goode, the principal of Salt Lake City's Northwest Middle School. He says gangs are exploiting the youth after class.

Goode was one of about 30 activists and educators who got together Nov. 5 to talk about children, gangs and race as part of a U.S. Justice Department effort to address racial tensions in Salt Lake City's west side.

There were plenty of opinions on the topic.

Frank Cordova of the Utah Coalition of La Raza says the issue is not necessarily whether there are fistfights among different races at schools, but whether the students are interacting with one another or if they are segregating themselves in classrooms and cafeterias.

Cordova, who grew up on the west side, said as a kid he spent most of his time with the few other Latino families in the area.

"We never socialized with the majority. Never," Cordova said.

The city's west side students include youngsters with roots all over, including Sudan, Cambodia, Bosnia, Tonga and numerous Latin America countries.

"It might be easier to say who's not," Goode said. "We don't have any French. I think."

Salt Lake City police Lt. Isaac Atencio, who's in charge of the department's gang unit, said there's too much emphasis on problems in the schools. He contends the trouble lies with parents who don't know their children are in gangs because they don't speak English or are too busy working.

"We need to start looking at parents and, secondly, to the community," Atencio said.

The police department is trying to help parents, including providing English language translation and training.

Glendale Middle School Principal Betty Valenzuela recalled a fight last year among five boys of varying races. She said the fight wasn't so much about race as about boys misbehaving.

The school has adopted a theme that encourages students to get along.

"We have a handful of kids that are looking at race, but most of our kids mix with one another," Valenzuela said.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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