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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fear Factor - Navigating the Public School Gang Wars

CASA Columbia just came out with its new "Fear Factor" study (OK that's my term) on gangs in middle and high school. Although the New York drug and alcohol research arm of Columbia University can over do it sometimes, there's no way to downplay what this year's study found.

About one in four surveyed teens attending public schools reported the presence of both gangs and drugs at their schools, and 32% of 12- and 13-year-old middle school children said drugs were used, kept, or sold on school grounds -- a jump of 39% in just one year.

The 12- to 17-year-olds who participated in the survey were asked about the presence of gangs at their schools. Among the findings:

* 46% of public school students, but just 2% of private and religious school students, said there were gangs at their school.

* Compared to teens in schools without gangs, those in schools with gangs were nearly twice as likely to report that drugs were available and used at school (30% vs. 58%).We know where there are drugs, there is alcohol too.

* Compared to teens attending schools without gangs and drugs, teens attending schools with drugs and gangs were 12 times more likely to have tried cigarettes, five times as likely to have used marijuana, and three times more likely to have used alcohol.

Although I find this data chilling, my kids go to public school and it's not really a big surprise. There are gangs in our schools and they cause trouble. The police found a locker full of guns at Einstein High School (our feeder high school) two years ago.

The principal called in all the parents to reassure them that the guns were not meant to be used - "JUST SOLD." How did they find out there were guns? A kid reported hearing a shot coming from the bathroom. Comforting isn't it?

Another kid got on a bus in our downtown area to head back home and was shot for arguing with a boy who turned out to be a member of MS-13.

A boy in our neighborhood who was adopted from El Salvador as a toddler, was smoking marijuana and starting to fail out of high school when he asked his parents if he could go to boarding school. Why? The gang kids from his home country were pressuring him to join. Now he's a happy, studious, kind of nerdy kid - a much better option.

What's the answer? We don't have the money to live in the private school bubble. There are a handful of public high schools in our area that don't have gangs. But they are basically segregated schools and you have to be able to buy in "certain neighborhoods" where the prices have stayed higher than the one we live in.

Given a choice between the rich white kid school and the diverse math/science, communications arts magnet high school, my son chose Montgomery Blair. So it's 116 on the list of best high schools in the nation, not 80 something.

He hated the white kids' school where BMWs were awarded with learner's permits. Of course, that school just outside of Washington, DC is not really segregated according to government terms, but the boundary lines are drawn so only a fraction of kids from the slummier parts of the area can attend. When I went to back to school night, it was a sea of well-dressed white people. I hadn't seen that even in my own childhood.

So now my son is happier, with a large group of kids he really likes, and quietly navigating the various gangs in his high school, while staying out of all of it. I guarantee he'll grow up a well rounded, more savvy and a much more compassionate person than those whose kids who get whatever they want when they want it.

The truth is running away from the gang problem - and believe me there are plenty of families in our area who do - doesn't really solve anything.

So with all the billions of dollars that our government and private foundations are spending on public school improvements - why can't they do something about the gangs?

1 comment:

  1. Moving to a school that does not have the gang problem does solve the problem for a child who can. The schools don't have the authority, knowledge or back bone to handle the problem. Frankly, it's not their place.

    No thinking parent would knowingly put their child in an environment of violence, drugs and failure.

    Based on your view of the "White Kids", I would say you chose to put your son where he felt more comfortable socially. You chose to segregate your son from the those "white kids". Now you know the driving force behind those who wanted to keep segregated schools. They did not feel comfortable around those who were different, just as you did not.

    I guess segregation is only not ok if you are white. Your views are as old as the 60's and quite disturbing.