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San Mateo schools expand gang-prevention program

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The San Mateo Police Department and middle schools in the San Mateo-Foster City School District are providing kids with sessions that explore topics such as controlling anger in hopes of steering them from gangs. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • The San Mateo Police Department and middle schools in the San Mateo-Foster City School District are providing kids with sessions that explore topics such as controlling anger in hopes of steering them from gangs.

Throughout this school year, San Mateo’s Borel Middle School has hosted a new program designed to snuff out gang problems at their roots. Last week, the board of trustees approved expansion of the program to other middle schools in the San Mateo-Foster City School District.

The Gang Resistance Education and Training program — better known as GREAT — is billed as “an immunization against delinquency, youth violence and gang membership.” It consists of 13 class-length sessions on topics ranging from controlling anger to analyzing information and student beliefs about gangs.

Several of the sessions also include a letter to be taken home to the families of the participants to encourage interaction between children and their parents.

“The feedback from the instructors and from the school staffs has been outstanding,” said San Mateo Police Department Sgt. Dave Norris, who believes the program has had a positive impact at Borel. “The students are really enjoying it, they’re getting something out of it. They’re coming out of it with a greater sense of pride, a greater set of decision-making skills and some good social defenses that allow us to handle some of our other priorities at the schools, which is to reduce some very hot issues like bullying and cyberbullying.”

Norris said the department already has begun reaching out to other middle schools to begin implementing GREAT, though it’s not something that would ever move into the high schools since it is targeted to a specific age range.

“We now have great influence at the high school level,” he said. “It has reduced some of those issues we were seeing a few years back with some of our most troubled high school youth, so now our focus is to bring that timeline backward a little bit, and focus on some of the youths in the middle schools.”

The program, which is facilitated by the Police Activities League,  also aims to foster a greater connection between students and their schools by implementing a GREAT project designed to improve the school in some way.

The districtwide rollout of the program carries an estimated fiscal impact of $25,000, and Norris said the general implementation is expected to take place next fall.

The program has been rolled out nationally through partnerships with local organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities League.

bmartin@sfexaminer.com