Gang Awareness Programs Compliment DARE
By Meghan Fay, Assistant Editor

Communities nationwide are finding the need to embrace gang awareness programs to deal with the violence that has overflowed from the streets into the classrooms. GREAT, VEGA and GATE are just a few of the different programs teaching violence prevention and conflict resolution to youth that range from a national approach to a local effort. One of the common themes these programs all share, however, is an emphasis on gang awareness and violence prevention by teaching life skills such as anger management.

Efforts Receive “GREAT” Reviews 

GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training) is a national program created in 1992 through a partnership between the Phoenix, Az Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “The primary goal is to reduce delinquency and improve community relations with the police department,” said Jim Scott of the GREAT Program at the Bureau of ATF. He believes it is a misnomer that GREAT is just a gang program because Scott feels it really teaches life skills.

GREAT is designed to help youth set goals for themselves, resist peer pressure, learn how to resolve conflicts without violence and understand how gangs and youth violence can negatively impact the quality of their lives. “By focusing on life skills [the program is] giving them the skills to avoid trouble,” said Scott. GREAT is a nine-lesson middle school curriculum focusing on the primary goals of reducing gang involvement and youth violence.  The nine GREAT lessons are:

1. Introduction. Students get acquainted with the GREAT program and the presenting officer.

2. Crime, Victims and Your Rights. Students learn about crimes, their victims and their impact on school and the neighborhood.

3. Cultural Sensitivity and Prejudice. Students explore how cultural differences affect their school and neighborhood. 

4, 5. Conflict Resolution. (two lessons) Students are taught how to create an atmosphere of understanding that enables all parties to better address problems and work on solutions together.

6. Meeting Basic Needs. Students learn how to meet their basic needs without joining a gang.

7. Drugs and Neighborhoods. Students are educated about how drugs affect their school and neighborhood.

8. Responsibility. Students examine the diverse responsibilities of people in their school and neighborhood.

9. Goal Setting. Students learn the need for goal setting and how to establish short and long-term goals.

Since its inception, GREAT has added a shorter third/fourth grade and fifth/sixth grade curriculum, as well as a summer component. Currently, the National Institute of Justice is conducting an evaluation of the effectiveness of GREAT. The most recent results indicate that GREAT lowers the rate of delinquency, lowers the rate of gang affiliation, increases positive attitudes towards the police, increases the number of friends involved in pro-social activities, increases commitment to school and increases communications with parents about their children’s activities.

Although the ATF is nationally responsible for the program, there are five regional partners: Portland, Ore., Philadelphia, Pa., Phoenix, Az., Orange County, Fla. and Lacrosse, Wis. 

Illinois State Police Raise Gang Awareness

VEGA (Violence Education & Gang Awareness) is a program offered throughout the state of Illinois to stress the importance of resolving conflicts without the use of violence and to provide youth with a better understanding of the consequences they face when joining gangs and participating in acts of violence. The curriculum was designed by the Illinois State Police in response to public concerns regarding school security and safety. 

VEGA is taught as a five-lesson supplement to the DARE core curriculum for fifth and sixth-grade students. The two programs are offered to the students on alternate years. The lessons emphasize cooperative learning strategies to highlight tough situations youth are experiencing involving violence and gang violence. The lesson concepts include:

  • Emphasizing a strong “no tolerance” message towards gangs and violence;
  • Increasing perception of self worth;
  • Enhancing pro-social and communication skills;
  • Identifying positive alternative groups;
  • Identifying a positive support system;
  • Teaching conflict resolution skills;
  • Collaborative problem solving; and
  • Offering accurate information relating to the portrayal of gangs.
The five VEGA lessons are:

1. Gangs - A Matter of Choice: the basic facts about gangs and their destructive consequences 

2. Violence and its Victims: what causes conflict and why violence is not a constructive solution

3. The Circle of Violence: investigate the sources of violence and conflict by discussing how different ideas and feelings cause people to disagree

4. Peacemakers Not Peacemakers: focuses on problem-solving skills and learn the six steps in problem solving (control, communicate, create, choose, chance it, consider advice)

5. Thinking Ahead: A Look at Tomorrow: learn perceptions of other people and situations are based on their own experiences, needs, values and beliefs

In addition to targeting students, VEGA also provides a community in-service to parents and community members to help the community participate in keeping youth safe from gang involvement. According to Sergeant Jim Minx, of the Illinois State Police DARE Training Section, the best way for parents to prevent their children from becoming involved with gangs is to be involved in their children’s lives.

Warning Signs for Parents

  • Unexplained wealth without a source of income
  • Withdrawal from family and school
  • Staying out late without appropriate explanations
  • A change in peer group association or association with peers who do not share the same family values
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Sudden change in style of dress, such as sagging pants or excessive amounts of gold jewelry
  • Buys excessive amounts of one color for their wardrobe, especially red or blue.
  • Sudden change in personality such as irritability, hyperactivity or argumentative with loud verbal outbursts.
  • Change in verbal language, use of hand signals or use of symbolism and graffiti on personal property.
  • Change in attitude toward school including declining grades, increased disciplinary actions or skipping school. 
What Parents Can Do
  • Educate yourself about the issue and acknowledge problems when they arise
  • Increase and improve parenting skills
  • Improve communication within your family
  • Establish clear and consistent discipline procedures
  • Provide and get involved with programs which offer positive alternatives for your children
  • Teach your children pro-social skills such as revolving conflicts non-violently, controlling anger and tolerating differences
  • Support and get involved in school and community efforts to address gangs and violence
  • Prevent or limit accessibility to guns
  • Use the police and other support agencies in your community for assistance
  • Love and support your children and stay involved in their lives

The GATE (Gang Awareness Training Education) program is raising gang awareness and making a positive difference in violence prevention on a local level in Niles, Ill. The unique aspect of GATE is that the program tracks youth after they have been exposed to the course.

If a student who has participated in GATE shows any type of gang-related behavior or anti-social behavior, the youth can be referred to social service agencies, peer jury, peer mediation or other agencies through the GATE officers. According to the creator of the GATE program, Officer Robert Tornabene of the Niles Police Department, the program has even helped relocate families whose children have had gang involvement because of the neighborhood where they reside. 

The target age for GATE is grades 5 through 7 and it is a one-week program. It covers decision-making, gang awareness, peer pressure and resisting peer pressure and school and gun violence.


ATF Online - Gang Resistance, Education and Training GREAT
Gang Resistance, Education and Training - GREAT
Jim Scott – 800-726-7070
Illinois State Police - VEGA
SGT. Jim Minx – 217-527-9857
Gang Awareness Training Education - GATE 
Officer Robert Tornabene  - 847-588-6500
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339