Socorro ISD’s G.R.E.A.T. Program: It’s Pro Student, Anti-Gang
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
More than 10,000 children in the Socorro Independent School District have been G.R.E.A.T. Graduates. That’s G.R.E.A.T., as in the Gang Resistance & Education Training Program – a project that works with parents, teachers, counselors, and pupils to show students the impact and consequences of negative behaviors, including gang membership.
“We talk to the kids about bullying, about communicating with each other, and we give lessons on how to become a great citizen,” said Socorro ISD Police Officer, Ricardo Holguin – the coordinator of the GREAT Program. “It’s a federal program run by the Bureau of Justice Administration.”
The curriculum, taught by five Socorro ISD Police Officers, including Rafael Amaro, Armando Sanchez, Araceli Silva, Efren Pulido, and Holguin, purports to teach young students the elements involved in gang violence, and it teaches other skills such as prevention and awareness. “If we get them while they’re still young, we can teach them to respect authority.”
Founded in 1979 in Phoenix, Arizona, the GREAT Program has prevention as its main objective. Two curriculums are offered – a six week plan designed for 4th and 5th graders, and a 13-week program for 7th and 8th graders. The focus is on providing life skills to students to help them avoid using delinquent behavior and violence to solve problems.
Students at both curriculum levels learn to develop refusal skills, conflict
resolution, anger management, and basic decision-making abilities. Currently, the federal program is in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. In 2006, the project was delivered in 400 cities across the U.S.
“Some communities don’t think they have a gang problem,” Holguin said. “But, they may be in denial, because those problems do exist. In Socorro, there may be five or six gangs that are generating violence and criminal activities. The biggest gang is the Moon City Locos, but, there are other gangs as well.”
Holguin said the Socorro ISD has received anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 on a given year to run the program. This year, however, the district wasn’t funded. “We mainly use the money to provide incentives for the kids. It helps if you give them some sort of reward for their participation. This year we have 1,000 students participating. But, in the past ten years, we’ve had as many as 10,000 participants. The program just keeps growing and growing.”
At the end of each curriculum period, graduates receive certificates and a prominent person is asked to address the students. “Everything is like a mini graduation,” Holguin said. “We want the students to feel proud of their accomplishments. This is one excellent way to help them understand that it takes hard work to be a good student and a great citizen. We get them while they’re still young because, if you wait until they’re older, they won’t listen, because they will know too much already.”