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Pilot Programs Aim to Show Students That Gangs are not GREAT

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FAYETTEVILLE — Shockingtestimony by an admitted gang memberin a Cumberland County double murder trial has proven young children are joining gangs. The sheriff's office is trying to stop the trend before more people become victims of gang activity.

Similar to theDAREprogram, sheriffs deputies are now going into the classroom to teach an ATF program called GREAT.

Gang Resistance Education and Training is an effort to reduce gang activity and educate young students about the consequences of gang involvement.

In a Cumberland County gang initiation trial, gang member Ione Black revealed inside knowledge about gang activity, information no child needs to know.

"You're associating yourself with something that hurts innocent people," says Dep. Scotty Sweatt.

Cumberland County School Resource Officers are passing that important message along. With some children as young as 8 years old recruited into gangs, deputies have chosen to go into the classroom to teach gang education.

"If we don't get them at a young age, the gang culture will get them at a young age," says Sweatt.

Two weeks ago, GREAT started as a pilot program in five Cumberland County middle schools. Plans are to take the nine-week class to all seventh-grade students next year.

Students will not learn about specific gang activity. Instead, GREAT teachs tools needed to resist gang pressure.

"Since it's more frequent now, more around, it will be better to know more about it, the dangers in case you are approached by anybody."

GREAT is so new, research is still being done on its effectiveness.

Teacher Lisa Mason already thinks it works. GREAT was taught at her previous school in Columbus, Ga.

"They reported when they knew about different things going on, they report it to teachers. They felt more comfortable coming to teachers and speaking to us about it," she says.

Some members of the school district's curriculum committee expressed hesitation about the program.

One member thought it should be only taught to at-risk kids. But after learning more about the curriculum, it was approved for the pilot program.