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Babb Middle School fighting gangs with education

By Greg Gelpi

Getting to children before gangs do, Babb Middle School is piloting a gang resistance program.

GREAT, Gang Resistance Education and Training, intervenes by using hands-on activities to inform students about gangs and how to deflect the pressure to join gangs, said Forest Park police officer Curtis Averhart, Babb Middle's school resource officer.

The program, the gang resistance version of the DARE program, is one hour of classroom instruction a week for 13 weeks, Averhart said.

It's an "over all how to say ?no' to gangs," he said, and students have responded, asking to continue participating in the program.

GREAT focuses on teaching positive approaches to dealing with peer pressure and fending off delinquents looking to recruit for gangs, Averhart said.

"At that age (peer pressure) is very very strong," he said, adding that gang members "prowl" on children.

At the beginning of the program, Averhart asked how many of the students had been approached by gang members. About half responded that they had been approached, he said.

By the end of the inaugural program, students began pointing out suspicious activities to him, Averhart said.

"I applaud what Babb Middle School is doing," Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske said. "It's more effective if you can set up strategies to prevent kids from getting into gangs. It's tough once they get in."

Teske gave a presentation on "Pathways to Gang Memberships" earlier this week to educators in Gwinnett County.

He said the school system, court system and government agencies must work collaboratively to educate children, increase parental involvement and keep children busy with after school programs.

Teske cited Rochester, N.Y., where gang activity declined after an increase in after school programs.

"If you don't do that, then they'll find their own activities, and they'll be activities we don't like," he said. "Most delinquent conduct occurs right after school."

"Latchkey kids" come home after school and have nothing to do, Teske said. Before long, they are hanging out with delinquents and caving to the pressure to commit their own delinquent activities.

Babb Middle School was one of three Forest Park schools that recently held a town hall meeting together to address gang problems. Babb, Forest Park Middle School and Forest Park High School suffered vandalism which prompted the meeting.