From the article:
"Common wisdom holds that kids involved with gangs are long gone from school, unseen and vanished into street life. But James, a sophomore at Cleveland High last year, would disagree. To him, they were everywhere, congregating in the halls, getting high just outside the building, urging him to step into their circle.
At 16, he loved sports - track, in particular - and while he clearly feared parental wrath, he could not help pulling away from a mother frantic to keep him safe. Almost from the day school began last fall, James was torn between worries about where gang life might lead and his equally powerful wish to join, to belong.
It would happen when teachers sent him into the hallway for being disruptive in class. There, he was besieged.
"They keep pressuring me because I know people from both sides," the lanky boy said, his eyes downcast and his sneakered foot tapping incessantly. "We start walking and talking and I don't go back to class."
"You should get put on," they kept urging. "You should join up."
Finally, James' mother - who insisted that his full name not be published for fear of retaliation - made plans to enroll her son at another school this fall. There had been six fights and assaults serious enough that Cleveland security officers wrote reports, and rumors of a drive-by shooting last winter rerouted all school bus pickups to the rear of the building for the remainder of the year."There is so much going on here, it's hard to know where to start.
- How are these kids, who are not enrolled at Cleveland getting in and being allowed to roam the halls? (We have 3 security officers at Roosevelt so I know Cleveland has them as well. That said, I hardly ever see the officers in the halls and Cleveland probably has its hands full.)
- If a teacher sends a kid out, he or she should check at the office after class or at the end of the day to see if they made it there. If not, follow up.
- If James joined the track team, he would be belong somewhere.
"In the wake of a bloody 2008 that has so far claimed the lives of six teenagers from the Seattle area in gang-related shootings, parents, school district officials, police, outreach workers and churches have become increasingly frantic to find solutions. But while each of these groups offers ideas, none has yet been able to coordinate with the others to develop a sustained plan of attack.
Blame, however, abounds.
Parents and preachers point at the school district. Educators insist they are doing what they can. Everyone, it seems, complains about money.""The new anti-gang group Youth 180, funded by the city, has already enlisted about 10 teens to hit the streets and reach out to others. So far, it's working. But theirs is merely one small effort and lack of continuity typically plagues such campaigns - highlighted in one year's budget cycle, only to be excised in the next."
Look to the Families and Education levy and you can see where this emphasis on the WASL cut away from these programs. The City wanted more of the money to go to something they could measure.
"In 2004, however, money to fund Team for Youth was folded into the Families and Education levy with a new mandate. Caseworkers now would focus solely on improving graduation rates, WASL scores and other measurable outcomes."
"The gang problems flare up, money comes pouring in. They go away, the money dries up," said Andre Franklin, who runs a midnight recreation program for teens at the Southwest Community Center in West Seattle. "This problem is never going to go away until there is something sustainable for working with youth in prevention and intervention."
"Intervention works," said John Hayes, director of community relations for the Seattle Police Department. "Working directly with families works. That's what we learned more than anything in the early years. A lot of those old-school programs we need to bring back."
Yet a year of good intentions - and a half-dozen dead teenagers - have so far resulted in little more than scattershot efforts to reach youth, along with mounting frustration from the communities most affected by their violence.
"The presence of a youth gang problem must be recognized before anything meaningful can be done to address it," reads a directive from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of a gang-intervention model adopted by Seattle schools. "If denial is present, it must be confronted."
Is it denial? Is it that gang activity dies down or lessens and money is so tight that these efforts go away?
"For those unfortunate youths in my own city who think they have no other alternative but to join gangs and continue to kill one another, suffice it to say when they value their own life, I will value their life. Until then, I don't care."
What do we do? Pressure the district and the City to do more and sustain it? Hope it doesn't spread citywide to all high schools? Take a hard look at the problem and ask what part of it is society and what part of it is personal responsibility? As several readers here have noted, there are a myriad of programs to help reach these boys and get them through school with mentoring. What happens if they choose not to avail themselves? What happens if their home life is so unstable they feel more kinship with gang members? It's true; everyone wants a place to belong.
But some part of growing up is saying, "What is my life going to be about? If I know the difference between good and bad and I choose bad because it's easier, is it now on me to admit that?" I've found - with my own kids - a resistance to think ahead to the future because it's too hard or it's takes planning or gasp! it's gonna take work to get somewhere in life.
But I also think that there are a lot of good examples for these boys and they are choosing not to see them. The prime example, right in front of them, is Barrack Obama. He says himself he ran wild in high school and did drugs. He was not a solid citizen despite going to a good prep school. He pulled himself out of it. It can be done.
But no more kids should die because of a gang affiliation. No more people should have to worry about just walking around their neighborhoods. And we all know what will come if this continues; there will a a bystander killed, either on the street or at a school.
And to my final point:
- " a mother frantic to keep him safe", "James' mother - who insisted that his full name not be published for fear of retaliation - made plans to enroll her son at another school this fall"
That, my friends, in a nutshell is why the SE Initiative is not going to work. That is why we need to keep choice in assignment plan at the high school level. It's not even about equity but survival. I know some of you are going to say, well, I can't save every child and what about my right to go to a school near my home?
But for now, there has to be, by public entities, a multi-pronged approach to get this under control. We all have stand up and shout loudly to the powers that be, ENOUGH and get off your asses and do something - NOW.