Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Schools learning to combat gangs

By Earnest Winston, ewinston@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Covington schools administrators took a course on “the streets” and are bringing their notes back home.

        Fresh from a national gang symposium in Orlando, Fla., that focused on innovative, successful strategies to combat gangs, five school officials plan to use the information to address a growing concern.

        “We'll share the information with our other community partners,” said Janice Wilkerson, director of prevention services for Covington Independent Public schools.

        “Everybody is working on this together. It's important to share the knowledge so that everybody is working from the same page.”

        Workshops at last week's four-day National Youth Gang Symposium focused on gang trends, suburban gangs and prevention and intervention. More than 1,200 people, including officials in education, law enforcement and social services, attended.

        “In terms of ganglike activity, we probably have as much in this district as any of the other schools do,” Superintendent Jack Moreland said, “so it's of primary importance to us.”

        Addressing gang activity will be on the agenda at next month's school board retreat. In August, administrators, teachers and other staff will gather at Two Rivers Middle School for a three-hour seminar to learn how gangs recruit and signs that students might be involved in gang activity.

        Covington educators say gangs aren't a pervasive problem in the schools, but gang activity is an issue in the community. Ms. Wilkerson said educators began paying closer attention after students said they were concerned about gang activity at schools in a fall 1999 districtwide survey.

        John Moore, director of the National Youth Gang Center in Tallahassee, Fla., said gangs in small towns and rural counties are diminishing, but they are holding their own in metropolitan areas.

        “This year, in particular, we've seen more denial on the part of city authorities, some of whom had reported gangs previously,” Mr. Moore said.

        Also attending the symposium were board chairman William Fitzgerald; court liaison Tony Gruelle; Gil Esparza, prevention specialist at Glenn O. Swing Elementary School; and Maurice Murriel, family safety outreach coordinator.

        The trip was funded with a three-year, $5.7 million federal “Safe Schools/ Healthy Students” grant the district received in October.


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