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09/02/13 — Missed Direction: Keeping the danger out of the schools

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Missed Direction: Keeping the danger out of the schools

By John Joyce
Published in News on September 2, 2013 1:46 PM

Some kids come to school with more than just backpacks.

Some bring hunger.

Some bring neglect.

Others bring abuse.

Many carry with them the invisible scars of street

violence.

For public school students in Wayne County, the degrees of separation might vary, but the presence of gangs is very real.

"They bring to school

with them what they live," said Chris Barnes, security coordinator for Wayne County Public Schools. "We deal with that all the time."

Director of Student

Services and hearing officer Allison Pridgen said in the public schools, the worry is not about actual gang activity during school hours.

It is what the students

face when they head home and what they bring back to the classroom with them.

"Public schools take in

kids from the communities they serve, all of them," she said.

And what they face at home does affect how they learn and whether their high school careers end with a diploma.

GPD Officer Nick Artis, school resource officer at Goldsboro High School, knows that

firsthand.

He meets a lot of good kids, he says, but some are lost, he adds, because they do not get the attention and love they need from a mother and/or father.

Artis said many of the young people he talks to are either raising or being raised by siblings.

"These are kids acting as parents," he said.

He, too, sees the impact of an insecure homelife and the threat and lure of gangs as a factor in how children function in the school environment and in their lives.

"They're doing what they can to survive, but there is a breakdown in the family, in the community," Artis said.

Many of the students he meets are poor, he said, but this is not a poverty issue.

In the housing projects where Artis was assigned for years before coming to the high school in 2004, there are single-parent homes, elderly people making ends meet.

These people are working, some of them going to school themselves, and trying to send their children or grandchildren to get an education.

The combination of gangs and drugs in the neighborhoods, and the thug-life culture that is so pervasive in today's music, movies and

television, easily derails some of these parents' best efforts, he said.

Mrs. Pridgen agreed. Most of the hearings

she presides over are individual cases of

students who bring drugs or weapons or alcohol to school -- not gang activity.

Barnes said it has been more than eight months since he can recall having to remove gang graffiti from the walls of a school.

WCPS public information officer Ken Derksen said the schools work hard to make sure that students feel safe when they are in the classroom and on school playgrounds.

"There are students who are involved or are imitating gang activity," he said. "What (we are) saying is that we provide a safe learning environment for all students."

And sometimes, he added, that time in school is much safer

than what the students face when they head home.

"We're not blind to what is going on in the community," Derksen said. "The fact is the schools are doing everything they can to help."

The Goldsboro Police Department and Wayne County Sheriff's Office offer the G.R.E.A.T. and C.O.P.E. programs to fifth-grade classes. These gang education and drug awareness programs teach children how to deal with peer pressure and to make the right choices.

There are counselors and social workers, videos and class materials, all geared toward increasing awareness and lowering the

potential for at-risk

kids to succumb to such pitfalls as drugs, gangs and dropping out.

The teachers, administrators and staff of Wayne County Public Schools understand the importance of their role in their students' lives, offering time and

attention as well as a positive role model to all students, no matter what their background or home life, Mrs. Pridgen said.

And they are also watching for signs.

"We have them during their best waking hours, and we have some of the best (trained) staff for identifying those students at risk," she said.

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