By Jenifer Gee
The potential for gang activity to rise lies mostly in county schools, particularly among high school students. While school officials haven´t yet taken drastic measures to prepare for a problem, they are aware that it is something they cannot ignore.
The Amador school district is taking steps to educate administrators on the possibility of gangs, understand how gangs function and their appeal to students. Superintendent Mike Carey, Amador County Unified School District Board members Barry Franks and P.J. Karnaze, about four school administrators and Ledger Dispatch Publisher Jack Mitchell traveled on Oct. 25 to Sacramento to attend a day-long conference titled, “Effective strategies in school safety and prevention.”
Carey said one of the speakers was a San Diego County Office of Education official in charge of gang intervention and youth violence prevention who had interesting information for rural county schools. The speaker said rural communities are sought-out areas by some gangs because of the potential to increase their revenue through drug trafficking or other means of drawing an income.
Carey said the problem is not relegated to only the West Coast or East Coast but is also a growing trend in Midwestern states.
Carey also said another highlight of the conference was hearing from an 18-year-old former gang member. The student presenter said he chose to join a gang in the sixth grade because he liked the power and respect he received from other students.
However, when the boy wanted to leave the gang, he faced problems with grudges from rival gang members and from members of his former gang.
The school´s policy toward gangs within schools relies on a dress code that prohibits anything thought to be gang attire. Teachers and administrators do not rely solely on clothing color as an indicator of gang activity. A student´s behavior such as hand gestures and attitude and other identifying marks like certain clothing labels or numbers and codes written on notebooks and folders are also indicators of possible gang involvement.
But to date, Carey said there have not been suspensions or expulsions because of gang activity.
“A couple kids are asked not to wear certain colors and that´s probably the extent of discipline,” Carey said.
Besides the conference Carey and other school officials attended Oct. 25, school principals, but not teachers, have gone through some form of gang training or education. “I think we´re a long ways away from having to deal with those kinds of problems but it´s just good to be aware,” Carey said.
Carey later added that the school district is focusing on student behavior and reaching out to those in need.
“Probably the best thing we can do is build the school´s social climate by just recognizing the kind deeds that go on at school,” Carey said.
What can the community do?
Police and school officials stress that parents monitor what type of clothing their children wear, who their friends are and what their children do in their spare time. They also suggest monitoring their child´s cell phone contacts and text messages as well as any Internet activities or profiles such as those found on the popular Web site MySpace.com.
Stidger suggested parents and teachers go online and research different gangs. “If you go on to any Web site and type in Norte´o or Sure´o, a lot of information comes up and it tells you about the culture and what to look for and their gang signs and colors they use,” Stidger said.
Students are also encouraged to do what can be considered the most difficult – talk to an adult. Students should also end friendships with someone who is involved with a gang and avoid any possibility of becoming a gang member. “Kids need to take a stand,” Sutter Creek Police Officer Rod Fisher said.
Police and school officials also advise parents and community members to remain vigilant of suspicious activities or persons. County residents are encouraged to call their local police department if they feel an officer should further investigate a person or situation.
“I think that this is where we´re at a point now if we´re going to decide if we´re going to keep this from happening or allow this to happen,” Fisher said. “And really it´s the community at large that needs to make that decision and mostly it´s just by paying attention.”
Reprinted with permission from the Amador Ledger Dispatch.Com