Disturbed by a rise in gang membership, particularly among younger schoolchildren, the Los Angeles school board on Monday unanimously approved the development of a pilot program aimed at helping students resist peer pressure to join gangs.
Under the proposal authored by East Los Angeles board member Larry Gonzalez, the experimental program will operate in 10 schools throughout the district and focus on the fourth, fifth and sixth grades--the age at which he said many youngsters first become active in a gang. The program will be developed in cooperation with Community Youth Gang Services, a county agency devoted to curbing street-gang violence.
Last year, 5,273 gang-related crimes were recorded in Los Angeles County, including 269 homicides, according to Gonzalez. In addition, he said, gang affiliation contributes to poor grades, truancy and dropping out.
'Help Them Say No'
"It is within our reach to influence young people, help them feel proud and help them say no" to gangs, the board member said.
Gonzalez said the anti-gang program will be similar to the district's 3-year-old anti-drug project, which will operate in more 400 schools next fall. In that program, Los Angeles police officers make weekly visits to classrooms and use a variety of techniques to discourage students from using drugs.
In the anti-gang program, staff members from Community Youth Gang Services--many of them former gang members--will offer strategies on how to stay out of a gang, and will try to help students with weak self-esteem learn to feel better about themselves. According to Gonzalez, improving a youngster's self-image often makes a positive difference in his life.
As a result of the board's vote, district staff members will develop a curriculum and present it for board approval late this year.
In a separate action, the board went on record in opposition to the so-called Gann Initiative on the November ballot, which would set a $64,000 limit on salaries of top public officials.
According to East San Fernando Valley board member Roberta Weintraub, who offered the resolution, passage of the initiative would have a disastrous effect on the school district's ability to attract and retain highly qualified administrators.
The district is now searching for a successor to Supt. Harry Handler, who announced recently his intention to retire in two years. Handler, the highest paid school chief in the nation, earns $122,000 annually.