Profile No. 60

Se Puede San Juan, TX

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Gang intervention and prevention program.

Program Goal:
To prevent at-risk youth from becoming involved with gun violence, gangs, and drugs; to improve their academic performance.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
At-risk middle school students and their parents.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Tricity area (Pharr, Alamo, and San Juan),TX.

Evaluated by:
OZ White Associates, San Antonio, TX.

Contact Information:
OZ White Associates
527 Kings Court
San Antonio, TX 78212
Phone: 210­736­1712

Years of Operation:

The tricity area of Pharr-Alamo-San Juan, TX, has 5,000 gang members (about one-fourth of the student body) attending the district's schools. It is an area of high drug use and drug trafficking within 44 neighborhoods ("colonias") characterized by high unemployment, few job opportunities, and substandard housing that is often without indoor plumbing. Children who are most at risk often come from families involved in drug use and/or trafficking and frequently have been sexually abused.

The Se Puede ("You Can") program brings together teachers, counselors, and school security personnel to provide positive alternatives and role models to counter daily exposure to violence, gangs, and drugs while helping to improve the student's academic performance. Students participate in the program for 1 year. Each participating school campus designates a trained and appropriately licensed program staff member to provide both individual and group counseling. A curriculum component, Project Heart, combines substance abuse and violence prevention principles and techniques through culturally sensitive lessons that are taught weekly in every school.

To improve behavior and academic skills in school, Se Puede offers students, many of whom have never been out of their colonia, weekend camping experiences. Groups of 10­15 students from each of the nine schools participate each month in modified survival skills outings in which they learn to camp, fish, cook, canoe, and complete rope challenge courses. High school students who have exhibited leadership potential are trained in mentoring and given responsibility for assisting younger participants during the outings. According to evaluators, "rival gang members who began trips by flashing gang signs and exhibiting hostility returned from the experience asleep on the shoulder of their former enemy." Some of the former gang members even went on to become mentors on subsequent trips.

In the communities in which the nine schools in the tricity school district are located, the number of gangs increased from 9 to 22 during the 12 months of Se Puede's implementation. Arrests of juveniles increased by 32 percent from 699 to 923.

However, of the 826 participants in Se Puede (99 percent Hispanic and 124 speaking only Spanish), 20 percent stopped participating in gangs after 6 months; another 10 percent dropped gang status after 12 months. During the same period, "wannabes" dropped from 13 percent to 3 percent. Arrest rates among Se Puede participants dropped from 13 to 10 percent, adjudicated participants from 12 to 6percent, and repeat offenders from 15 to 3 percent. The number of participants having no contact with law enforcement increased from 34 to 65 percent. After 6 months, 18 percent of Se Puede participants reported they had stopped using drugs, and another 19 percent reported that they had stopped using drugs after 12 months.

Participants also demonstrated improved school behavior; absenteeism was reduced by 10 percent and disciplinary incidents decreased by 20 percent. Teachers reported better classroom behavior for 50 percent of participants, and results of tests administered before and after the program indicated improvement in decisionmaking skills, communication, and healthy behaviors such as drug avoidance.

Violent behavior among participants also declined significantly. During the year prior to Se Puede (1995­96), 395 aggravated assaults were reported among 6,750 students in all grades, a rate of 5.9 percent. During the program's first year, Se Puede participants committed only eight aggravated assaults, representing less than 1 percent of the program's participants.

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