Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
© 2002
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Part 1b:
What Schools Could Do
(Back to "What Schools Could Do, Part 1a")

Alternative Schools for High-Risk Students

The schools need to provide remedial and enriched educational programs for gang-prone and hardcore gang youths. (Kane, 1992)

bulletDeveloping alternative schools for at-risk students: 
By placing children with conduct disorders in an alternative and treatment-oriented school setting we are better able to serve those the children who remain. We are also better able to focus personnel and programs on the children with conduct disorders. Their integration back into the mainstream school population should occur as soon as practicable.

Earlier in the book we addressed the topic of alternative schools and the kinds of programs they offer delinquent and gang youth. Included are anger management, conflict resolution, substance abuse, greater one-on-one tutoring, remedial reading, writing, and mathematics.

Counseling services in the alternative school setting reflect the uniqueness of the schools students.  Substance abuse, depression, child abuse, teen pregnancy, anger and aggressive behavior, and the impact of dysfunctional families are the norm rather than the exception.

Field Note: The principal of an alternative high school in a city of 480,000 inhabitants said "There aren't enough alternative schools for all the children in this city who need them."

Alternative schools may be found at elementary-, middle-, and high school levels. "Alternative high schools serve approximately 280,000 students nationwide who are at high risk for failing or dropping out of regular high school or who have been expelled from regular high school because of illegal activity or behavioral problems. Such settings provide important opportunities for delivering health promotion education and services to these youth and young adults."  (Grunbaum, et al., 1999)

Alternative high schools may offer career-related education realizing that many of their graduates will enter the job market directly upon graduation rather then go to college.

Among the intervention programs which Spergel and others (1994) found to be effective were "Alternative education programs which teach young people basic skills, which they may not have mastered while in school, and to prepare them for a GED or, where possible, higher education." (Spergel et al., 1994, p. 14)  

Alternative elementary-, middle-, and high schools are designed to address the needs of disruptive and other students who have been or soon will be expelled unless their in-school behavior and academic performance have improved. Chaiken has also noted the importance of offering an alternative form of schooling for expelled and suspended students. (Chaiken, 2000, p. 13)  

In-School Programs that Work

"The Virginia State Department of Education (1993) identified the following four responses as being effective in promoting learning for at-risk students: developmental preschool programs, supplemental reading programs, reducing class size, and school wide projected in prevention and support." (Payne, p. 107)

Curriculum-Related Solutions


Schoolwide Homework Support
A very successful middle school in Texas schedules the last 45 minutes of every day for homework support. Students who did not get their homework done must go to the cafeteria where tutors are available to help them with their homework. The students must stay until their homework is finished. School officials have arranged for a late bus run to take students home. Many poor students do not have access to adults who have the knowledge base to help them with homework. The school has built this into the school day.” (Payne, p. 71)


Direct Teaching of Classroom Survival Skills
"The direct teaching of classroom survival skills makes a difference. What are classroom survival skills? Many of these skills are referred to as study skills, but there are also the cognitive strategies ... how to stay in your seat, how to participate appropriately, where to put your things, etc." (Payne, p. 73-74, see Chapter 8 for further explanation)


Schoolwide Homework Support:
A very successful middle school in Texas schedules the last 45 minutes of every day for homework support. Students who did not get their homework done must go to the cafeteria where tutors are available to help them with their homework. The students must stay until their homework is finished. School officials have arranged for a late bus run to take students home. Many poor students do not have access to adults who have the knowledge base to help them with homework. The school has built this into the school day.” (From A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, aha! Process, Inc., Highlands, TX., 2005, p. 71)



 Introduce Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs:
"Schools that encourage social and emotional development reap important rewards for their students, including greater academic success, fewer problem behaviors, and improved relationships between students and significant people in their lives. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) was founded in 1994 to establish high quality social and emotional (SEL) as an essential part of education from preschool through high school."

One of CASEL's most recent publications, Safe and Sound: An Education Leader's Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning Programs, is a well-spring of useful information for school personnel who want to implement a social and emotional learning program.


The Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies program: 
"The Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) Curriculum is a comprehensive program for promoting emotional and social competencies and reducing aggression and behavior problems in elementary school-aged children while simultaneously enhancing the educational process in the classroom. This innovative curriculum is designed to be used by educators and counselors in a multi-year, universal prevention model. Although primarily focused on the school and classroom settings, information and activities are also included for use with parents.

"PATHS has been field-tested and researched with children in regular education classroom settings, as well as with a variety of special needs students (deaf, hearing-impaired, learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, mildly mentally delayed, and gifted). Ideally it should be initiated at the entrance to schooling and continue through Grade 5." (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence)


The Incredible Years Series - Parents, Teachers and Children's Training Series:
"The Incredible Years Series 
is a set of three comprehensive, multi-faceted, and developmentally-based curriculums for parents, teachers and children designed to promote emotional and social competence and to prevent, reduce, and treat behavior and emotion problems in young children. [The] program targets children, ages two to eight, at risk for and/or presenting with conduct problems (defined as high rates of aggression, defiance, oppositional and impulsive behaviors). The programs have been evaluated as 'selected' prevention programs for promoting the social adjustment of high risk children in preschool (Head Start) and elementary grades (up to grade three) and as "indicated" interventions for children exhibiting the early onset of conduct problems." (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence)

bulletTeaching about gang-related laws and legal consequences:
At a very early age our youth need to know which behaviors are considered violent or gang behaviors and the possible consequences for behaving in this manner. Knowledge is a powerful tool and the more children know about the possible consequences of their actions the more responsible they may become. They also learn what the legal consequences are for getting involved with a gang.

bulletTeaching about parenting and basic parenting skills: 
Provide opportunities for school-age youth to learn how to parent successfully (i.e., put them in role-playing situations to see what it feels like to be a parent, offer focused discussions on parenthood, provide day-c
are services in the high schools for community parents and, in the process, teach high school students what it's like to be responsible for having a child).

For students who are pregnant or who are already parents, teach basic parenting skills. The outcome should be a parent-child relationship which is caring and nurturing, reducing the likelihood of raising a child who becomes a disruptive element in the classroom and, potentially, gets involved in delinquency.

bulletTeaching about gangs: 
There no longer is any question about whether students in elementary, middle, or secondary school should be exposed to information about gangs. If the teachers aren't informing them about gangs, gang members and the media are. It is no longer uncommon to see children eight and nine years of age active in street gangs. That's children in the third and fourth grade. Visit the Resources section of Into the Abyss for more information.

bulletOffering the Teens, Crime, and Community (TCC) Program
"Diana, age 14, began her participation in Teens, Crime, and Community (TCC) in August of 1997 at John H. Wood Middle School in San Antonio, TX. She received her TCC instruction in a Teen Law class of approximately 22 students that is offered to the eighth grade class and uses the TCC text. As part of her TCC instruction, Diana and her class performed community service for a local homeless shelter."
Diana's experience helped her get out of the gang life she was living before she entered TCC.

bulletInstalling a G.R.E.A.T. Program: 
The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program was designed by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco in conjunction with the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department. Taught in grades 3-4 and 5-6 by local, specially-trained police, the G.R.E.A.T. Program provides nine hours of classroom instruction and student involvement on such issues as recognizing gangs and gang members, managing conflict, dealing positively with diversity, and building self-esteem. The emphasis of the program is on anti-gang education.

bulletOffering Drug Awareness Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.)
The Drug Awareness and Resistance Education program. is being used in schools throughout the county in a variety of grades.  D.A.R.E. attempts to teach students to resist drugs, accept diversity, build self-esteem, and resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. The emphasis of the program is on drug education and avoidance. Does it work?

bullet Implementing the Get Real About Violence program:
Get Real about Violence® is a trademarked commercial product offering field-proven K-9 lessons on such topics as Vulnerability to Violence, Contributors to Violence, and Alternatives to Violence. There are lessons for each grade as well as for a K-9 school-wide unit.

After-School Solutions

bulletOffer the L.A. Bridges Program at the Middle School Level:
L.A. BRIDGES is a school-based, prevention program focusing on middle-school youth (ages 10-14) who are at high risk of school violence, pre-delinquent and delinquent behavior and/or gang affiliation. This four-year program is designed to reduce violence among youth and at our schools, strengthen family foundations, improve home-school collaboration, and empower residents through community action. It is unique in its efforts to combine (1) a program aimed directly at at-risk youth and their families, (2) a requirement for community dialogue and interaction on an on-going basis, and (3) a gang intervention component to reduce tensions among gangs locally.

There are 26 school-based L.A. Bridges sites throughout Los Angeles. These sites were selected based on: youth risk factors, such as poor school attendance and achievement, and violent behavior at school or in the community; family risk factors including family violence, gang activity and substance abuse; and community risk factors, such as a high levels of crime and juvenile crime. Students participate in after school and weekend educational and recreational activities, tutoring, mentoring, community service opportunities, and individual or family counseling.

bulletProvide after-school programs for teens:
Few after-school programs have developed strategies for attracting large numbers of teens, especially older and harder-to-serve youth. In response to this need, Madison Square Boys & Girls Club in New York City and Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston participated in a three-year initiative to enhance services to underserved teens. This report documents the successes and challenges the Clubs experienced as the initiative unfolded. They recruited large numbers of teens, involved them in a variety of activities, and provided them with emotional support, leadership opportunities, and programming in two critical areas: academics and job training.
bulletInvite college interns to supervise and be role-models for school youth:
Contact your local college or university to inquire as to social work, sociology, child and family development, or criminal justice programs with students who are interested in providing working with youth as part of their internship for their academic degree program. The interns usually work free, are highly motivated, and are seeking additional training in order to be more successful working with at-risk kids.

The after-school programs may be held on the school's grounds, at a local college or university, or on the grounds of a local park or faith institution. There may even be parents interested in providing supervision after school for athletic events or other healthy activities.

Organizational Solutions

bulletDeveloping a school-based gang task force: 
The National Education Association suggests the formation of a Gang Task Force within the school and that its members develop and implement plans/programs on how to deal with gang members and their activities. Contact the National Education Association for ideas on creating a school task force on gangs. Here's a report about just such an effort.

bulletEmploying school resource officers: 
School Resource officers (SROs) are found in schools throughout America. If your school doesn't have a SRO, learn about what they do to see if you need a SRO for your school. Hire and train school resource officers to work in conjunction with local social agencies and law enforcement. If school security and truant officers are employed, train and use them to deal constructively with children who are not attending school.  Integrate their efforts with those of school administrators and teachers as well as with local law enforcement.

Providing Positive Role Models

bulletParent Training and Contract Through Video
"A principal in Illinois who had 95% of his parents on welfare started a very successful program of parental education and contact through videos. Each teacher in the building made a 15-minute videotape. During that 15 minutes, the teacher made a personal introduction, gave an overview of the instruction for the year, identified the expectations of the class, and encouraged the parents to visit or call.

"Five copies of each video were made and during the first month of school each student could take a copy home and have an adult view the video. This was very successful for several reasons: (1) Parents who were not literate could understand, (2) it provided a kinesthetic view and feel for what kind of teacher the child had, (3) the parent was not dependent on transportation to have contact with the school, and (4) it prevented unnecessary miscommunications early in the year. It is a low-cost intervention, and other short videos could be made for parents about school rules, appropriate discipline, etc."
(Payne, p. 73)

bulletSafe Schools Ambassadors Program
(Featured on the MSNBC "Today Show" on Tuesday, April 20, 2004)
In the
Safe Schools Ambassadors Program, students in the school are selected and trained to act as positive role models for the remaining students. This program has a successful track record and, as of this date, may be found in over 200 schools nationwide.

bulletAdopting the Se Puede Program: 
The Se Puede ("You Can") program
is a "best practice" which brings together teachers, counselors, and school security personnel to provide positive alternatives and role models to counter daily exposure to violence, gangs, and drugs while helping to improve the student's academic performance.

bulletImplementing volunteer mentoring and/or tutoring programs: 
At the core of this Illinois program is the child’s opportunity to establish a meaningful attachment to a positive adult role model. Encouraging the child’s overall development (academic, social, emotional, and ethical) is the mentor’s central responsibility. The program provides productive, structured activities that demonstrate the importance of education and civility. 

By participating in these activities with instruction and help from mentors, children come to appreciate the value of social interaction. Successful mentoring relationships have been associated with decreased alcohol and drug use, truancy, and violence. 

Furthermore, through their interactions with the mentor, many youth will determine that their futures hold promise and that somebody cares. You can read about the mission, steps to program development, and about pilot volunteer mentoring and tutoring programs. (Unfortunately, this website information was taken off the web by 15 February 2005. It refers to what is/was called the Gang Crime Prevention Center, 318 W. Adams St., 12th Floor, Chicago, IL 60606, Phone: 888-411-4272. It may no longer exist.

You can also bring experienced parents and grandparents into curricular or extra-curricular settings to mentor students who are pregnant or already parents. You may involve senior citizens as role models, in school/student activities. Bring them into the classroom to share their experiences, participate in selected lessons in the classroom, and to mentor the children.

Field Note: The security officer at this large inner-city high school isn't armed. The entrance to the school requires students to pass through a metal detector and the security officer's desk is in the middle of the front hallway. He watches everyone who comes into the school. The officer told me "I initiated a program I call 'Maleness to Manhood.' Sometimes it's called 'Boys to Men.' 

The male students meet with me and we discuss male-oriented issues, practical math-related matters  - like how to handle money, budgeting, things like that. The boys and I designed a model city and displayed it in the entrance hallway of the school. 

The process of making the model and the feedback the boys got from other students made the boys feel good about themselves. And they got that feeling about something good that they did, not a crime or something like that. We meet for six to seven months during the school year."

bulletInvolving university or college students: 
Schools with a gang presence are often located in communities with institutions of higher education (colleges and universities). College students majoring in social work, sociology, psychology, and criminal justice programs in higher education are often seeking locations where they can experience what is commonly referred to today as "service learning" experiences or participate in internships or practicums. Having those college students tutor and mentor younger at-risk students is one way to reduce gang activity and youth violence. By calling any of these colleges or universities (even community colleges) in your community you may be able to find a valuable resource for your schools.

bulletThe Bullying Prevention Program:
"The Bullying Prevention Program
is a universal intervention for the reduction and prevention of bully/victim problems. The main arena for the program is the school, and school staff has the primary responsibility for the introduction and implementation of the program. The] program targets are students in elementary, middle, and junior high schools. Additional individual interventions are targeted at students who are identified as bullies or victims of bullying." (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence)

Providing Gang Information Resources

bullet Reducing intergroup conflicts in schools:

The site of the California Association of Human Rights Organizations (CAHRO) provides users with access to a variety of programs and strategies to reduce intergroup conflict within the schools.

bulletPreventing youth violence in urban schools: 
A collection of articles providing ideas for school-based violence prevention programs.
bulletCreating safer schools - Strategies for Educators and Law Enforcement
This guide
speaks to school principals and local chiefs of police about ways they can work together to make schools safer for our children. Many things can be done to prevent school violence. To be successful, prevention programs must address how students deal with anger and conflict; how students get access to weapons (guns, knives, etc.); and how prevention programs need to involve all members of the community -- educators, law enforcement, parents, clergy, etc.

In-School Policies that Work

bulletDeveloping policies regarding high-risk students: 
Develop policies which identify high-risk students early on who are being transferred from school to school and address their special needs. Such a policy is critical given what we know about the correlation between poor school performance and delinquency. Coordinate identification and intervention efforts on behalf of high-risk youth and at as early an age as possible.

bulletCreating assistance teams within each school: 
Assistance teams are a resource for teachers dealing with disruptive or at-risk students. Each team may consist of parents, teachers, administrators, representatives from area social services, mental health professionals, law enforcement personnel, and others, as the school system sees fit. The team recommends policies for dealing with disruptive/at-risk youth and specific actions to be taken on their behalf.

Field Note: The county sheriff's gang squad commander said "Schools need to adopt a gang policy, if they have not already done so. A policy that would penalize gang-related behavior - wearing gang-type clothes, throwing signs, claiming gang affiliation, exhibiting tattoos, gang slang - things like that. They should also have a policy of notifying parents of such gang behavior. Teachers and administrators should talk with students about gangs and gather as much intelligence on the subject as possible. Knowledge is a very effective tool for dealing with this issue."

Serving the Community

bullet Adopt an Agency: 
Encourage a class or school club to adopt an agency which promotes non-violence among youth and provide them with volunteers and whatever else may be needed (i.e., help with raising funds, distributing information, painting the agency, cleaning the grounds, sponsoring a holiday party).

bulletProviding students with opportunities to serve the community: 
Children with a sense of pride in their community are less likely to be problem children.  Community service also builds communication skills, enhances feelings of self-worth, increases interaction within the community, and makes the community a better place for all of its residents to live and work.

Coping with Crises

While most adults have developed ways to effectively cope with crises in their lives, most children have not. In order to help children deal with crisis situations productively, schools could:

bulletDeveloping policies to cope with crises: 
should be developed or adopted which clearly outline how teachers, administrators, staff, and students will respond to crisis/behavior problems in schools. 

Rather than caught off-guard as we were in Columbine (CO), schools should be prepared. Encourage schools to work with parents in devising strategies to address disruptive behavior.

bulletFostering recovery: 
Encourage efforts which teach children how to recover from or adjust more easily to shock, misfortune, or change. All children are exposed to situations which may result in shock, but not all of them are equally prepared to deal with these situations.

Left unattended, some of these children will become self-destructive (i.e., by taking drugs, adopting a poor self-concept, doing things that get them in trouble, physically hurting themselves) or take their misfortune out on others as they grow older.

Irving Spergel is one of the nation's premier gang researchers. In A School Based Model (1993) he and Alba Alexander lead the reader through the various steps needed to reduce gang activity and youth violence in schools. While the steps are discussed in full in the original document, they are presented in outline form below.

A School-Based Model for 
Gang Intervention and Prevention

(Spergel and Alexander, 1993)

The school's approach to dealing with the gang problem requires first that it be recognized.

bulletGoals and Strategies:
While there are limits to what the schools can do about the basic family and community factors that significantly contribute to the youth gang problem, there is much that schools, in conjunction with community agencies and groups, can do.

The model proposes that primary academic competency objectives cannot be achieved unless social objectives are also given due attention. The objectives of a special school program should be: 

1) creation of a structure for flexible curriculum delivery to gang-prone and gang member youth; 

2) provision of vocational education, job preparation, and employment experiences; 

3) development of a learning support system; 

4) early intervention to prevent and deter gang involvement (and drug abuse); 

5) application of consistent sanctions and means to protect the school population and surrounding community from gang depredations; 

6) parental involvement; 

7) liaison, coordination, and outreach to community agencies and programs; and finally 

8) appropriate training, staff selection, data retrieval systems and evaluation procedures to facilitate and determine the effectiveness of the programs developed.
(Spergel and Alexander, 1993)

Our schools are only one of several public sector social institutions with a vested interest in developing children who are happy, healthy, and behave with civility. Local government, the topic of the next section, could also contribute to reducing gang activity and youth violence.


Additional Resources: See the following resources online: Eliminating Gang Influence in School (here are some associated suggested readings),

Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools is an excellent report. Learn how to Take Action Against Bullying or read the OJJDP's brief document entitled Addressing the Problem of Juvenile Bullying. You can also read Developing a Gang Prevention Program designed specifically for use in schools.

If you'd like to learn more about how to facilitate an incarcerated youth's transition back into mainstream education, read From the Courthouse to the School House: Making Successful Transitions.

Read Christy Hornung's article on Conflict Management Techniques for students in the 4th through 12th grades. The Office of Special Education has posted its latest version (September, 2001) of A Guide to Safe Schools.

Wendy Schwartz has compiled a web page with links to several excellent articles on preventing youth violence in urban schools. And you can read about Student Strategies to Avoid Harm at School.

You can learn about school-based Violence Prevention and Reduction.

You may be able to find some interesting statistics on one or more of your local schools at the site of the National Center for Education Statistics.

See the School-Based Violence Prevention and Intervention Programs: Preliminary Findings (2005) to determine what the best approach for your school may be. The site of National School Safety and Security Services provides links to a variety of School Safety and Security, Crime and Justice, Education, Gang, and Associated Resources.

Here's an Annotated Bibliography on alternative education. Once at that site, type alternative education in the Search box.

© 2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.