- Child Welfare and Attendance
Gang Reduction Intervention
The City of San Juan Capistrano has experienced gang involvement since the 1970’s. Believing that we cannot arrest our way out of a gang problem, a decision was made to target potential gang members and educate these students on the consequences of gang involvement.
Due to the size of the endeavor, a collaboration of school officials, law enforcement, community based organizations, and volunteers was required. The result was the implementation of the Gang Reduction and Intervention Program (GRIP). The program would be implemented at four San Juan Capistrano schools; Marco Forster Middle School, Kinoshita Elementary School, Del Obispo Elementary School and San Juan Elementary School.
In February 2008 the Capistrano Unified School District, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and City of San Juan Capistrano embarked on the collaborative development of GRIP to intervene in the growth and recruitment of criminal street gangs in San Juan Capistrano schools.
This collaborative effort grew to include the Capistrano Unified School District PTA’s, City Officials, prominent members of the community, the Boys and Girls Club of Capistrano Valley, and Big Brothers and Sisters. The San Juan Capistrano Rotary Club, Costco, and many other local groups have also supported GRIP in many ways. The collaboration specifically focused on preventing younger children from joining gangs through a simultaneous prevention and intervention approach.
- Many positive changes have occurred since the implementation of the GRIP partnership. Immediately evident was greater communication and coordination between school officials and law enforcement. The interaction between counselors, community based organizations and volunteers also improved.
- All fourth and fifth grade students have attended the GRIP curriculum at the target schools. All principals and most teachers have attended the training and orientation to the GRIP curriculum, which included information on gang awareness and recognizing “warning signs.” Hundreds of San Juan Capistrano parents attended GRIP meetings and gang awareness seminars.
- This year over 200 volunteers and teachers stepped forward to read to / mentor at-risk kids. Many of the students had poor literacy skills and were in need of additional support. The statement to the students is that someone cares and education is a priority. For example, Kinoshita Elementary a GRIP school realized a phenomenal 50-point increase in API scores.
- Truancy rates have dramatically decreased at the four target schools. In 2008-09, over 600 students from the participating schools had perfect attendance and didn’t have any discipline entries. Pizza parties, recognition events, and tickets to sporting events were again used as incentives to students to modify behavior and maintain attendance.
- Approximately 50 Strike Team interventions have been conducted. Nearly all students who attended the interventions have shown improvement in school attendance and performance. Most importantly, they are given the support to refrain from gang activity.
The GRIP Partnership is truly an effective tool against gang proliferation. Its success in San Juan Capistrano has enabled us to expand the program into four San Clemente Schools: Las Palmas Elementary School, Concordia Elementary School, Bernice Ayer Middle School, and Shorecliffs Middle School. The program deters the gang appeal, elevates the importance of education, and fosters success. GRIP brings schools officials, parents and law enforcement together to collaborate on solutions. It multiplies our ability to be effective. We believe the GRIP partners and volunteers that are planting the seeds today in our students will soon see gangs eliminated from our community. GRIP is, in fact, making a difference.
Truancy Sweeps are conducted frequently with the participation of the school officials, the Sheriffs Department, District Attorney, and PRYDE counselors. This action is based on the critical nexus that exists between early truancy and later criminal activity. On sweeps, reasons for excessive truancy are often discovered and remedies sought. Students and parents are reminded of the value of education and made aware of the criminal consequences they face being in violation of truancy.
Periodic Curfew Sweeps are conducted in San Juan Capistrano. Research indicates that curfew violators have a high propensity to join or be a victim of gang activity. Offenders and their parents were offered counseling and assistance.
“Strike Teams” are the most significant intervention activity undertaken by GRIP. Participating in the Strike Team are teachers, school administrators, counselors, County Probation and/or Social Services staff, and Sheriff and District Attorney staff members. The team identifies at-risk students based on truancy, poor grades, significant discipline problems, and behavioral violations that appear gang-related. The students are evaluated with their parents present in order to create an intervention plan with counseling and regular follow-up meetings. The plan develops both short and long-term goals, and strategies are developed to promote prosocial improvements.
GRIP’s gang prevention is addressed through the education of school faculty, parents, volunteers and students at the targeted schools. The GRIP Advisory Board has addressed this need through the implementation of a gang-prevention curriculum for each of the groups.
- A 4-week curriculum teaches students the consequences of participation in criminal street gangs as well as focusing on creating positive self-esteem. Additionally, the School Resource Officer (SRO) meets either one-on-one or in small groups with every 4-8th-grade student at the four participating school campuses. The SRO gains their trust, encourages participation in healthy after-school activities, discusses the risks of gang affiliation, and helps them understand the laws, penalties, and consequences relating to gang involvement.
- The parent and teacher education curriculum provides current information regarding the street gangs operating in their neighborhoods and schools. The curriculum focuses on recognizing “warning signs” that may indicate their child or student is at-risk of joining a gang. Positive steps that can be taken toward gang prevention are covered in the curriculum. Parent education sessions are also provided in parenting skills, counseling, basic family services and peer support. Teachers are familiarized with the variety of resources available to students and parents. GRIP presentations are also shared with the schools’ PTA and local Hispanic coalition groups.
- The GRIP partnership meets and shares information with civic and business organizations.
Other prevention activities include coordinated incentives and programs designed to fill gaps during off school hours:
- The Boys and Girls Club of Capistrano Valley partnered with GRIP to address the need for before and after-school programs for the students attending the four schools. The focus of the program is to provide a caring and positive adult supervised environment in which the students can participate in a variety of activities designed to improve socialization and interpersonal skills. The program also helps to improve the students’ relationship with law enforcement and to develop self-esteem and self-confidence. Assistance with homework, participation in recreation and athletic programs, and tutoring are also offered.
- The Los Angeles Angels Baseball Team partnered with GRIP last year in allowing 600 students with perfect attendance to meet players and attend a game. This incentive had an incredibly positive effect on attendance.
- GRIP recruited over 100 parents and volunteers to participate in a reading program at the schools. The readers spend an hour per week reading to students during lunch or before or after school.
- Nearly 100 teachers volunteered to be mentors and are spending that extra time with students after-school and on weekends to strengthen students’ connection to their school.