New program steers kids clear of gangs


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KEARNS -- Fifth-graders in Kearns rolled up their sleeves and cleaned up gang graffiti Tuesday. They came up with the idea on their own as part of a new awareness about the dangers of gangs.

You may think elementary school is too early to worry about gang influences on our kids. But Metro Gang cops say they've seen third-graders flash gang signs. The GREAT program, or Gang Resistance Education and Training, helps kids see the future of their community in a positive way.

Morgan Faurschou, a Western Hills Elementary School 5th-grader, says the program has a simple message: "Try to stay out of gangs and be a good person, and try not to do bad things that hurt people."

Laurie Steed's fifth-grade class got tired of all the gang graffiti at one of their favorite parks and decided to clean it up. Detective Ski Afatasi is assigned to the school as part of the program. He developed a good relationship with the kids. He works with students on self-esteem and responsibility in the community. In just a short, six-week program the students already see a difference.

What proportion of adolescents join gangs?
In the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative sample of 9,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 16, 8 percent had belonged to a gang by age 17; however, only 3 percent indicated that they were gang members in the first survey year, 1997, when the sample averaged 14 years of age. -National Gang Center

"It's helped me, because there's a lot of people around here that get into gangs," says Morgan. "It helps me so that I know not to be in with them." And it helps students know the value of a clean neighborhood. With money from a grant, the Granite School District started the program in six elementary schools and four junior highs. The students learn more about themselves and how to treat others.

"I learned how to control anger and stop fights," says fifth-grader Luis Cendjas.

Their teacher admires the new excitement they show for their community. Steed says, "I've noticed that they are kinder to each other and they're more aware of other people's feelings. In the GREAT program, they do role plays and just practicing how to act in different situations. I think it's really helped them."

The children learn to ask themselves critical questions: What good can I do today? And what difference can I make?

Tuesday morning they answered and quickly wiped the graffiti away, then picked up trash.

New program steers kids clear of gangs

Capt. Jon Fassett, with the Unified Police Department, said, "They do have a positive influence, even at this young age. They are positive parts of the community because there's younger kids who look up to them."

The program also helps the youngsters develop a positive attitude toward the police. They now sense that they're on the same side.

"We want to encourage the kids through this program to be good members of the community and be good citizens," says Fassett.

In just an hour, the park was free of graffiti and garbage, and the students started to repaint walls.

The police department and school district hope to expand the GREAT program to many more schools.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

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Jed Boal

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