The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program is a school-based gang- and violence-prevention program with three primary goals: 1) teach youths to avoid gang membership, 2) prevent violence and criminal activity, and 3) assist youths in developing positive relationships with law enforcement. The program is a cognitive-based curriculum that teaches students life skills such as conflict resolution, responsibility, appreciating cultural diversity, and goal setting. All of these skills are presented with an emphasis on how crime affects victims and how youths can meet basic social needs without resorting to joining a gang.
The G.R.E.A.T. program targets youths as they begin middle school. The program is active in every state nationwide, with four regional headquarters (Midwest Atlantic, Southeast, Southwest, and West) that assist in implementation, delivery, and course materials.
The G.R.E.A.T. program primarily uses uniformed law enforcement personnel to teach students. This takes some burden off of classroom teachers and helps facilitate one of the main goals of the program: developing a positive relationship between youths and law enforcement officers. Over the program’s life and development, federal agents from the U.S. Marshalls and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), along with district attorneys and probation officers, have been trained and certified to teach G.R.E.A.T.
The G.R.E.A.T. program was originally developed by the Phoenix (Ariz.) Police Department in partnership with ATF in 1991. After evaluation, the original nine-lesson curriculum was revised, drawing on the models of two other school-based programs—the Seattle Social Development Model (SSDM) and Life Skills Training (LST)—as well as research on risk factors for youth gang involvement. The SSDM is a comprehensive model that builds a positive learning environment through cooperative learning, proactive classroom management, and interactive teaching. The LST program emphasizes developing skills more than assimilating knowledge and relies heavily on problem-solving exercises, role-playing, and cooperative learning strategies.
With the inclusion of these different programmatic elements, the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum was expanded to 13 lessons that range from 45 to 60 minutes taught in the sixth grade. The lessons are cumulative. The G.R.E.A.T. lessons encourage students to make healthy choices such as being involved in more prosocial activities and associating with more prosocial peers rather than delinquent ones. A strong emphasis is placed on communication skills such as being an active listener and being better able to interpret verbal and nonverbal (body language) communication. The program seeks to improve students’ empathy for others and to increase the levels of guilt associated with violating norms and laws.
The G.R.E.A.T. Program also includes a six-lesson elementary school curriculum, a summer component, and a family-strengthening program for parents and children called G.R.E.A.T. Families. The elementary school component is designed for students in the fourth and fifth grades and aims to prevent violence while developing a positive bond between law enforcement and youths during their early developmental years. Each of the six lessons lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. Students receive a letter to share with their parents that explains the lesson and is designed to facilitate parent–student interaction. The summer component builds on the school-based curriculum, although students need not have participated in the school-based curriculum to participate in the summer sessions. It provides students with positive activities over the summer months as an alternative to gang activity and offers additional opportunities for social, cognitive, and interpersonal growth. The summer curriculum combines lessons (e.g., on conflict resolution, goal setting, self-image, juvenile law and procedures, cultural awareness/sensitivity) with fieldtrips and activities. The family component is a six-session family-strengthening program. Families are engaged through group interactions and activities designed to increase positive family functioning.
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Evaluations of the Gang Resistance and Education Training (G.R.E.A.T.) outcomes indicated promising results, but caution should be used in interpreting these results since the effects documented by Esbensen and colleagues (2012) were not wholly consistent with the stated goals of the program.
The program had a moderate positive effect on gang membership. The odds of joining a gang were 39 percent lower for students completing the G.R.E.A.T. program than for students in the control group at the 1-year follow-up. Treatment group students receiving the G.R.E.A.T. program in the sixth grade were 39 percent less likely than control group students to have joined a gang by the eighth grade.
Delinquency and Violent Offending
There were no statistically significant differences between treatment group students and control group students on any of the general delinquency or violent offending outcomes at the 1-year follow-up. Results were in the expected direction (reduction in criminal activity for the treatment group), but they did not reach statistical significance.
Attitudes Toward the Police
The program had a small positive effect on prosocial attitudes toward the police. G.R.E.A.T. students reported a statistically significant and more positive opinion of police officers than students in the control group at the 1-year follow-up. This effect was more pronounced on the two items directly related to G.R.E.A.T. program officers.
Development of Social Skills
G.R.E.A.T. students demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in refusal skills, were better able to resist peer pressure, were less self-centered, and expressed less positive attitudes toward gangs than students in the control group at the 1-year follow-up. However, there were no statistically significant differences between the treatment group and the control group students on any of the 15 attitudinal measures (empathy, impulsivity, guilt, etc.).
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