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New gang-education course teaches students a better way

GREAT program is part of a broad partnership under a $6 million grant

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 22, 2009) -- The City School District of Albany and the Albany Police Department have launched a new gang-education program for middle school students, the latest initiative in a broad community partnership aimed at expanding services for children and families.


The Gang Resistance Education and Training program (GREAT) began this month at North Albany Academy, Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School and William S. Hackett Middle School. School resource officers from the police department will teach the 13-week program. 


GREAT is a component of the four-year, $6 million Safe Schools-Healthy Students federal grant the district received in 2008 in partnership with a coalition of public and private agencies covering mental health, juvenile justice, substance abuse, youth development, early childhood education, family advocacy and higher education. Interim Superintendent Raymond Colucciello, Ed.D., was joined by the following Safe Schools-Healthy Students partners for a news conference to announce the programs Oct. 21:         

  • Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings

  • Albany County Executive Michael G. Breslin

  • University at Albany School of Social Welfare Dean Katharine Briar-Lawson, Ph.D.

  • Parsons Child and Family Center Chief Executive Officer Raymond Schimmer

  • Families Together in New York State Inc. Executive Director Paige Pierce

“The GREAT program is a shining example of the resources available to children and families in our community through the Safe Schools-Healthy Students partnership,” Dr. Colucciello said. “This cooperative effort symbolizes the spirit of partnership that exists in our community as we join together to improve our schools and our city by improving the lives of our children and families.”


Prevention is GREAT’s main objective. GREAT educates students about youth violence and gang membership to help them make positive choices and avoid destructive behaviors. Lessons focus on life skills that will help students solve problems without violence. GREAT encourages positive relationships with parents, schools, law enforcement and the community.


“The GREAT program provides the necessary tools needed to teach our young children life-building skills that will hopefully steer them away from youth violence and gangs,” Mayor Jennings said. “The skills that will be taught will give them the chance to succeed despite all of the peer pressure they face in adolescence. It is my sincere hope that everyone in the community embraces this valuable program.”


Albany police school resource officers Evelyn Blackwell, Willie Hughes and Gordie McLean attended GREAT training in Philadelphia last summer. They will teach the curriculum in sixth-grade health classes at North Albany, Hackett and Myers.


The Safe Schools-Healthy Students grant is being implemented locally through the Albany Partnership for Learning and Uniting Services, or A-PLUS.  In addition to the school district, the coalition of public and private agencies includes the following organizations:


  • Albany County Department of Children, Youth and Families

  • Albany County Probation Department

  • Albany County System of Care

  • Albany Police Department

  • City of Albany Department of Youth and Workforce Services

  • Committee for Safe and Substance Free Schools

  • Families Together of Albany County

  • Parsons Child and Family Center

  • University of Albany School of Social Welfare

The overarching goal of A-PLUS is to improve academic outcomes by reorganizing and expanding school and community services offered to children and families so that students in Albany may learn, live and prosper in safe and supportive environments.


“We are happy to be a partner in the Safe Schools-Healthy Students initiative,” Count Executive Breslin said. “This collaboration brings together many services and support systems to address the needs of all children and their families holistically. Educated and informed children are much more likely to succeed in school and ultimately in life.”


The centerpiece of the A-PLUS program has been the establishment of full-service community resource centers at Albany High School and North Albany, duplicating models that have been successful in other district schools. The full-service model allows children and families to access social, emotional and mental support services.


Additional A-PLUS components include substance-abuse prevention programs, a strengthened Truancy Abatement Program, the creation of a Youth Leadership Council and a parent-engagement program. Expected outcomes include decreased fighting in schools, fewer suspensions, less juvenile crime, better school attendance, expanded youth leadership activities, improved parent involvement, less-frequent substance use, stronger social and problem-solving skills, increased access to mental-health services and expanded early childhood screening.


“The A-PLUS initiative is responsive to the challenges that are faced by our students and families, our schools and our city,” said Leslie Jimpson, the district's A-PLUS coordinator. “It identifies and fills gaps in services and is designed to positively impact entire schools while at the same time offer intensive services for students and families who face special challenges.”


The mission of the City School District of Albany is to educate and nurture all students to be responsible citizens, critical thinkers and lifelong learners to successfully compete in the global community by providing an academically rigorous and safe environment in partnership with parents, students and the community. The district serves approximately 8,400 students in 16 elementary, middle and high schools. In addition to neighborhood schools, the district includes several magnet schools and programs, as well as other innovative academic opportunities for students.



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