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I taught for 6 years at a very inner city middle school that was considered
(special). All of the students were labeled Severe Behavioral Handicapped
(SBH) recently changed to Severely Emotionally Disturbed (SED). The students
ranged in ages 11-16, (That many school problems, you tend not to pass much).
And had all not been successful in classrooms within regular schools. They
came to us from all over the city creating instant territory problems and
many used gang symbols alot. We had many fights, and at first the
administration was reluctant to consider this to be a problem that required
special attention. Our students are not likely to make good choices, tend to
be quite volatile, and are usually from homes that do not meet all their
"family" needs. I mention this only to give a picture of the students. As the
art teacher I spotted the first signs coming into the artwork at the end of
one year, (my second in the school). Like most
I really didn't know what I was seeing but again my students are not swift
about hiding things or emotions. They showed the stuff and got very upset
when others attempted to copy. When asked, they pretty freely told me what
the stuff was (at this point). I talked to the officers who are regulars to
our building (another sad fact of the school) and they allowed me and two
other staff who were concerned) to attend several police workshops regarding
gangs. I learned a lot. Not the least of which is that things change fast.
Some of the strategies we used, specifically within the school setting (some
work, some work for some students, someday nothing works………)
!) Do not assume any student is IN a gang, colors, sagging, flashing
(stacking) of symbols is however inappropriate,and could be dangerous. This
is not their place, it's a school. Street stuff stays on the street.
1a) Gangs are Not a race or sex issue. Those in or around come from all
income levels, males, females, black, white, hispanic, and all others. Do not
assume that informing the parents will gain parent support. I had second and
third generation members. Also do not assume that parents are aware, the
never my kid thing you know....
2) Wannabe's are far more likely to be throwing around symbols etc. They have
something to prove. They are also far more dangerous for the same reason.
3) Remember that we cannot judge being in a gang is wrong. They will shut off
and not hear anything else. The stuff does not belong here. This is neutral
space, safe for all, can be heard. If you know them well you can tell them
you don't like it etc. But if you start out from that platform you will never
4) Be consistent and persistent in not allowing the symbols in your space. We
talked about censorship and we discussed responsibility. Respect for my
feelings won. We also discussed that art is to create feelings, but we were
not going to create those inspired by the symbols. I would also tell them the
origins of most of the symbols they used. Discussed how meanings in symbols
change. Hitler's swastika from the peace symbol was one example I used.
5) I allowed the students to show me new signs and symbols and tell me what
they meant (I learned a lot that way), but never forced and was aware that
this was very dangerous. We intercepted two alphabets from students that we
turned over to police and they allowed us to decipher a death threat to
Students take this very seriously. I had an 11 year old tell me if you were
not willing to DIE for your colors you ain't nothing. He did, by the way.
Shot in a tagging incident.
Next year I'm moving to a High School in the area, where the problems are
with bigger students. I needed a change, much as I loved my kids. I would
enjoy any additions even next year with how things are going on this thread.
When I first began seeing this, I had no knowledge or ideas. After having a
lot of it, I would share what I gleaned with individuals who wish. I worked
with it for a total of 5 years so far and will be in the thick of it again
next. And thanks to a helpful police force I compiled alot of information,
(that changes very quickly). Nancy V