It has been reported that North Carolina has a gang problem, and organizations statewide are working to keep gangs from growing.
Last year the Cabarrus County Sheriff's Office and county middle schools launched a program called GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training).
"It is a program developed to help youth avoid gang membership, prevent violence and criminal activity and develop a positive relationship with law enforcement," said Candis Elwood, resource officer for Harris Road Middle School. All seventh-graders meet with their resource officer weekly for 13 weeks to learn about it.
GREAT has been around for years; it went nationwide in 1992. Law enforcement agencies and schools nationwide have implemented it.
"What I am hoping the kids take away from this program is an understanding of the seriousness of being associated with a gang and criminal behaviors," Elwood said. "There are a lot of kids out there that model gang behavior because they think it is cool, or they want to gain fear and respect among their peers.
"When kids act like this, I am not always certain that they fully understand what exactly they are claiming to portray," Elwood said. "I hope to illustrate the dangers and paint them a picture of what their future will look like if they proceed in that direction."
GREAT is being taught at Harris Road, Northwest Cabarrus and Mount Pleasant middle schools and at Carolina International School, a charter school.
"Classroom time is devoted to a combination of skills training, cooperative learning, discussion and role playing," Elwood said. "... I have not had one negative experience while teaching the program."
Elwood said several hundred students completed GREAT projects last year. Since the program started, she said, she has noticed a big change in behavior and attitudes at Harris Road Middle.
"At the end of the program the students complete a community project in which they are asked to think of a way they could positively impact their school or community," Elwood said. "Many of the children actually put their plan into action and make their idea to help a reality.
"This is very important in keeping kids away from gang and criminal activity, because a child that participates... and cares about the community where they live is not nearly as likely to destroy it."