The day began with Miss Nancy making the rounds on the third floor where the 9th graders were taking classes. Every student wandering the halls during class was immediately identified, given a hug, and told without hesitation, "Get back to class now." The rest of the morning was spent going to a few different classrooms where there were frank discussions about the realities of prison, the importance of education, and the reason each teacher deserved the respect of their students. It was truly a no-holds-barred approach.
What most impressed me was the respect that Miss Nancy received from each of the kids. One minute she may be in a student's face explaining why their disruptive behavior was unacceptable, and the next minute they were giving her a hug as she told them how much she loved them. It just demonstrated what we all know but sometimes forget---just yelling at a kid and telling them right from wrong will not be nearly as effective if it is not coupled with love and respect.
Perhaps the most touching moment came at the end of a class when Miss Nancy noticed a student with his head down at the back of the classroom. She gave him a hug and asked him what was the matter. He told her he had not eaten in two days and there was no food in the house. Miss Nancy sprung into action, finding the lunchroom staff and getting him food immediately. He soon returned to class where he was able to concentrate and engage in the discussion. She told me later that particular student came from a family of seven children and had a single, unemployed mom. She made a note to call around and see what she could do to get some food in the house.
The purpose of the outreach program is to identify gang members or youth at-risk of gang involvement. Our outreach staff then work to meet the needs of those individuals; whether it is employment, OGT tutoring, securing food or shelter, or even washing uniforms so they can be presentable at work. No need is too small...because when a young man or woman sees that there are adults out there that understand their struggles and care about their success, they realize the "love" they get from the gang is not real. They realize they are worth something to someone who will never demand they commit a crime or start a fight. They realize they can make something of themselves if they just use the tools they are given.
It is only when we give our youth a sense of self-worth that we can start to address the problems of violence. And that is what Miss Nancy is doing, one kid at a time.