Field Note: One
of the nation's foremost authorities on Hispanic gangs told me
"Arrest is not the answer . . . education is."
Schools are a place of learning. In addition to learning
about topics in the curriculum, students learn the values of the culture
in which they live. In the classroom and on the playground, children learn important social
skills through their interaction with teachers and other students. Schools
provide an opportunity to emphasize the need for respectful behavior among
students, between school personnel and students, and between the school and
the neighborhood or community it serves.
When values related to good citizenship and civility are
not transmitted - or are only transmitted to a portion of the children, and
when important social skills are not developed, problems may arise. A school is a miniature community reflecting the
culture of the neighborhood or community in which it is found. Nearly everything that happens in a community -
including violence - happens in its schools.
For many reasons, schools are uniquely positioned to assist in efforts to
reduce youth violence.
Schools may be the
best resource for gang prevention. Public schools, especially middle
schools, are potentially the best community resource for the prevention of
and early intervention into youth gang problems. The peak recruitment
period for gang members is probably between the 5th and 8th grade, when
youth are doing poorly in class and are in danger of dropping out. Most
schools, overwhelmed by other concerns, tend to ignore or deny the
et al., 1994, p. 10)
While schools may be a good place to focus our prevention
efforts, students only spend about 12% of their time in a formal educational
setting during the school year, and this occurs only after up to five years with no time
spent in school (from birth to age five).
Therefore, while schools may offer formal violence prevention programs,
these programs alone cannot provide children with all the education they
need on issues involving violence. Parents and community organizations also
need to play a role in teaching children about violence, its
consequences, and ways to avoid or prevent it.
The following is an outline of the topics we are going to
address. As you access them you will find that, starting with Alternative
Schools for High-Risk Students, this part of Into the Abyss is on two different Web pages.
That was done to make them load more quickly.
on the topics below or
continue reading down the page ...
Gangs in Your Schools?
A youth gang member is likely to be a youth who has
done poorly in school and has little identification with school staff. He
does not like school and uses school more for gang-related than academic
or social learning purposes. Few schools directly address gang-related
problems or factors that precipitate gang membership. (Spergel,
et al., 1994, p. 4)
Do any of your local schools have a gang presence? In addition to inquiring about
the school-gang connection with your child, local police, juvenile officers,
and probation/parole officers, Howell and Lynch (2000)
suggest school children be administered a questionnaire at school. An
example is provided in a study conducted by Chandler, et al. (1998)
as reported in the Howell's and Lynch's article. (2000)
In addition to asking school children "Are there any street gangs at
your school?," Chandler, et al., recommend they be asked the following questions if they indicated
there were gangs at the school.
|Do the gangs have a name?|
|Is there a recognized leader? |
|Do they have a territory or
turf of their own?|
|Have they tagged or marked turf with
|Have any of the gang members committed violent
|Have you ever seen the gang members spend
time hanging around with other members of the gang?|
|Did they wear clothing or other
items to identify their gang membership, or did they have tattoos."
and Lynch, 2000, page)|
Among the many possible instruments which could be used to assess whether
there is a gang presence in a neighborhood's schools is the Gang
Assessment Questionnaire developed by GWC, Training Network, Inc. While some
questionnaires are to be completed by students, the one shown below is for teachers and
(for teachers and
This instrument was
developed by GWC, Training Network,
Reproduced here with permission.
If you can answer "yes" to a
question about your community or school, give yourself the full point
value for that question and write it in the line preceding the word
|1. Do you have graffiti on or
near your school?
|2. Do you have crossed-out
graffiti on or near your school grounds?
|3. Do your students wear
colors, jewelry, clothing; flash hand signals; or display
other behavior that may be gang related?
|4. Are drugs available in or
near your school?
|5. Has there been an increase
in physical confrontations or incidents of threats,
abuse, or intimidation in or near your school?
|6. Is there an increasing
presence of weapons in your community?
|7. Do students use beepers,
pagers and cellular phones?
|8. Has there been a
"drive-by" shooting in your neighborhood?
|9. Have you had a
"show-by" or a display of weapons near your schools?
|10. Has there been an increase
in the truancy rate and/or daytime burglaries?
|11. Are there an increasing
number of "racial" incidents in your community or
|12. Does your community have a
history of gangs?
|13. Is there an increasing presence
of informal social groups with unusual
Total Points (See
What your "Total
||Need to immediately
establish a comprehensive, systematic gang prevention and
problem that merits a total gang prevention, intervention and suppression program.
Chandler, et al., as reported in Howell Lynch (2000),
found "the students' use of various gang indicators was compared with their reports of the degree of gang
involvement in criminal activities at school. To measure gang involvement in
criminal activities, a gang crime scale was created based on student answers
to the following three questions:
|How often have street gangs been involved in
fights, attacks, or violence at your school in the past 6
|Have street gangs been involved in the sale
of drugs at your school in the past 6 months?|
|Have any street gang members brought guns to
your school in the past 6 months?"
and Lynch, 2000, page)|
As Chandler, et al., (1998)
found, "The percent of students reporting street gang presence
at school nearly doubled between 1989 and 1995, increasing from 15.3 percent
to 28.4 percent. The overall level of victimization in schools in 1995, 14.6
percent, was similar to that in 1989, 14.5 percent. There was an increase in
the percentage of students reporting violent victimizations, however,
increasing from 3.4 percent to 4.2 percent."
The proportion of children who join a gang varies by neighborhood.
Generally speaking, however, most children never join a gang. This belies
the impact of gangs on schools where they present significant problems
ranging from disruption in the class room to assaults on school personnel
and other students and significant property damage.
Despite their high profile in the media,
relatively few young people join gangs; even in highly impacted areas, the
degree of participation has rarely exceeded 10 percent. In addition, it
has been reported that less than 2 percent of all juvenile crime is
Such low numbers, however, may camouflage the impact
that the presence of gangs has on a school. For one thing, they play a
significant role in the widespread increase of violence in the schools. Because
gangs are, by definition, organized groups, and are often actively
involved in drug and weapons trafficking, their mere presence in school
can increase tensions there.
and Walz, 1994)
There are many steps which can be taken to reduce the presence of gangs
in schools and to decrease their level of criminal activity.
One of my primary concerns has to do with school truancy. I
observed school systems in which truant students were ignored. In some
instances, when students were excessively truant, their names were simply taken
off the class role. In most cities truant children were unmanaged. That
is, truant officers were either too busy or unconcerned and did not have
sufficient contact with children who were truant.
Truancy rates, as well as drop out rates, have
reached disturbingly high levels in some inner-city neighborhoods. What I witnessed
were neighborhood schools experiencing drop out rates as high as 25-40%. There is a high correlation between the
location of those schools and the location of gangs and gang activity in a
The following, beginning with truancy, are some of the potential solutions for reducing gang activity and youth
violence which could be implemented by school personnel or by school
personnel in conjunction with parents and other social institutions in the