Place Category: Specialized Court Projects
- PUYALLUP TRIBE OF INDIANS GANG RESISTANCE EDUCATION AND TRAINING (G.R.E.A.T.) PROGRAM
- PROGRAM DESCRIPTION
- PLANNING & IMPLEMENTATION
- PROGRAM OUTCOMES
Summary: The Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program is an evidence-based violence prevention curriculum that brings law enforcement officers into the classroom to work with students. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians first implemented the G.R.E.A.T. Program to create a safer school climate and reduce students’ involvement in gangs. The tribe, which has seen gang involvement drop dramatically, later adapted the program to create summer and weekend camps for youth.
Puyallup Tribe of Indians
Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program
Program Running Length:
2004 – Present
Officer Allan Gerking
Chief Leschi School
5625 52nd St. E,
Puyallup, WA 98371
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is located in Tacoma, Washington. The G.R.E.A.T. program operates out of Puyallup tribal Police Department for Chief Leschi Schools, which is located in the city of Puyallup, Washington. The camp component of the G.R.E.A.T. program is located in rural Graham, Washington, about 45 minutes away from Tacoma by car.
Tacoma is an urban area, and is part of the larger Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. The city of Puyallup is also a fairly urban area, making the Puyallup reservation one of the most urban reservations in the United States. The camp-grounds for the program are located in the city of Graham in a sparsely populated wooded area with abundant, diverse plants and animals. The camp is 300 square acres and there is a small lake on the property. There are several buildings at the camp, all constructed by program staff and youth, as well as a dock on the lake for swimming and boating.
There are over 4,500 enrolled members in the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, approximately 2,500 of whom live on the reservation. In addition, there are over 27,500 non-Puyallup Native Americans who also reside locally and have access to Puyallup services. The G.R.E.A.T. Program is operated out of Chief Leschi High School, which is one of the largest schools built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and has roughly 890 students enrolled. The student body is 98% Native American and the school serves students from over 60 different tribes.
In the early 2000’s, the Puyallup Police Department began seeing an increase in the number of gang-related robberies per year. Local residents reported that gangs had infiltrated the community, including the tribally-run Chief Leschi Schools. Gang members were regularly present at community and social events. There was often gang “tagging” and graffiti at the high school, and gangs were actively recruiting new members both at the school and within the families of Chief Leschi students. Youth were joining gangs and dropping out of high school.
By 2004 the gang crisis had escalated and several youth were shot and killed due to gang warfare, some of whom were known gang members while others were bystanders who got caught in the cross-fire. The violence peaked in 2005-2006 with an alarming 15 drive-by shootings within a three-month period (source).In response to these deaths, the Puyallup community took action to address the gang crisis by forming a gang task force which included several law enforcement officers and the directors of various tribal departments.
“Even the teachers were scared. The teachers were afraid of the students.”
– Josh Kelso, G.R.E.A.T. Camp Counselor and former studentThe school-based Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program serves children ages 4th through 12th grade at Chief Leschi School in Puyallup, Washington. The G.R.E.A.T. camp serves children from age 5 to 18. Most children served by the program are enrolled at Chief Leschi School and are members of the Puyallup Tribe or another tribe.In 2004, members of the gang task force were sent to Chicago to attend the National Gang Crime Research Center’s National Gang Symposium in order tolearn about different anti-gang programs and select a program that could be implemented in Chief Leschi School. After speaking with numerous presenters at the conference, thetask force decided to implement the Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program. In February 2005 the tribe sent Officer Allan Gerking, a tribal police officer who was stationed at Chief Leschi, to receive training in the evidence-based G.R.E.A.T. curriculum. When he returned, he began conducting the in-school prevention sessions with 4th and 6th graders at Chief Leschi.
The afterschool component of the G.R.E.A.T. Program began in the summer of 2005, when several high school youth suggested that the program should organize summer activities. The program had a small budget, so activities were kept simple, and were mainly based on youth’s suggestions. Some of the initial summer events included kick ball in the school parking lot, speaking events with elders, and trips to the zoo and Wild Waves theme park. The school was able to provide a bus to bring youth to and from the summer events. Initially, the summer program was held three days a week for five weeks.
Every year, the youth decided to add more activities and expand the summer and afterschool activities until 2007, when the youth participants asked to go camping. The program officer decided to investigate an undeveloped plot of tribal land in a rural neighboring location. At the time the land was in disarray with overgrown grass and abandoned sheds that were covered in garbage, and it was suspected that the lake on the land was poisoned. The program officer requested to have the watertested and discovered that not only was the water not poisoned, but that the lake came directly from an underground spring, and was clean enough to swim in. He then decided to petition Puyallup Tribal Council to develop the land for a summer camp. Though the program officer had to petition Tribal Council several times, he was finally able to get their consent to use the land in May 2007.
Having only a month to prepare for camp, the program officer decided to hire several high school students and offered them a small stipend to help him prepare the land. The students and program officer mowed the land and cleaned and secured the abandoned houses in time to hold a small summer camp that year. Since 2007 the program has expanded each year to develop and use more of the land, host more activities for youth, construct more camp buildings, and host more campers from a wider variety of age groups.
“I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but I like your enthusiasm and I vote to try it.” – Program Director recounting a quote from a former Puyallup Tribal Council Member
“When I tell the kids something is gonna happen I make it happen.” – Officer Allan Gerking, Program DirectorThe goals of the Puyallup G.R.E.A.T. program are to prevent youth gang involvement through the development of prosocial skills and relationships, and to create a safe, gang-free school and community environment. Additionally, the program curriculum is taught by law enforcement in order to build positive relationships between youth and officers.
Tradition or Philosophy: The G.R.E.A.T. camp incorporates culture and tradition in many ways. Guest teachers instruct campers in the Puyallup language and cultural practices, including the use of indigenous plants, drumming, basket weaving, beading, paddle making, storytelling, and many other activities. Additionally, at the end of each day, the youth gather in a circle to share their stories and experiences and sing traditional songs, drum and dance together.The school-based component of the program consists of in-class gang and violence prevention sessions facilitated by law enforcement officers who are trained to utilize the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum. The curriculum is comprised of two segments, one administered to 4th graders and the other to 6th graders. Within the curriculum there are thirteen sessions that are offered weekly to the two groups during the semester. The lessons directly address known risk factors for youth gang involvement. As such, the program teaches life skills around conflict resolution, goal-setting, decision-making, communication, empathy, resisting peer pressure, anger management, and responsibility to family and community.
There is also a camp component of the Puyallup G.R.E.A.T. Program. The summer camp, which is the largest event run by the program, is structured into three weeks of camp, which simultaneously host separate programs for youth who are in 7-10th grade and for kids who are in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. There are also daylong camp visits for younger children (ages 4 to 10) who are unable to stay overnight.
In addition to camp activities such as canoeing, archery, fishing, kick ball and other team games, the summer camp offers youth a culture class and a Kwawachee class. Culture class is one hour every day and is led by an elder who shares stories and traditions and involves youth in traditional activities such as paddle making, drum making. Kwawachee, meaning “helping hands,” is a class led by mental health professionals that focuses on teaching youth to be aware of mental health issues, and helps them think through healthy ways of responding to stress. For instance, one year the class focused on substance abuse and marijuana. Other topics have included suicide prevention, healthy relationships and anger management.
In addition to the summer camp, the program offers weekend camps and camps for certain holidays such as Halloween. In the past the program was able to host intertribal tournaments on their campgrounds with youth from other tribes during the spring break camp. The different camps are also great opportunities for teachers to become involved in the activities and form positive out-of-school relationships with youth. Weekend camps are generally used to teach youth the skills needed to help maintain the camp grounds, such as mowing the property, staining wood, building cabins or other needed structures, putting up sheetrock, and plumbing.
“For kids there is nothing better than seeing a canoe tip over with teachers in it.” – Officer Gerking, Program Director
There is also a camp leadership component of the Puyallup GREAT Program that involves weekly meetings with a selected group of adolescents who act as youth advisers to the program and role models to younger children. Some of the responsibilities of the camp leadership group include designing afterschool programming, designing program t-shirts, overseeing other youth and projects at camp, and maintaining the camp grounds throughout the year. Youth leaders who are also camp staff are paid a stipend for their work contributions.
“I was with other counselors that were my age. We didn’t have a single adult, it was just us. …That helped me grow to be a leader. I’ve always considered myself a leader but that really put me in the leader position because at least one of us had to stand up and take charge in front of all these kids. That helped me grow as a person and that’s definitely helped me in the work place being able to take charge of things.” – Dakota Murray, camp counselor and current studentThe G.R.E.A.T. Program is administered by two Puyallup Police Department officers whose time is solely dedicated to this program. Additionally, the camp is run by a handful of paid adult staff members. The majority of the camp counselors are trained, specially-selected youth from the high school and community, many of whom are alumni of the summer camp and/or school-based program. They meet at the camp starting in March of each year to prepare it for the summer.Eligibility Criteria
To remain eligible for the youth leadership component of the G.R.E.A.T. program, youth must consistently attend school and pass all their classes. Additionally, to be paid camp staff, youth must be at least sixteen years old and have participated in G.R.E.A.T. program activities for at least 12 months.
All youth who attend Chief Leschi School in fourth and sixth grade participate in the in-school G.R.E.A.T. program sessions. From there, youth are invited to participate in the G.R.E.A.T. Program camp during summer, spring break, and holiday activities.The program was given a small start-up budget to implement the program at Chief Leschi School. In 2007 the program director petitioned tribal council for the use of abandoned tribal land and for additional funds to make the land operational for a summer camp. When tribal council approved the use of the land as a campground they also awarded the program $8,000.
The program has grown every year, and as it has become a landmark for youth in the community and has gained the trust and support of tribal council, funding has increased. As of 2015 the program was awarded a budget of $130,000 from tribal council. The program receives some support from the Department of Justice, which helps provide the workbooks used in the in-school sessions.
However, the vast majority of the funding for the program comes from tribal council, as it has been hard to secure consistent grant funding. However, at times when funding has been insufficient to cover program costs, or when funding sources did not come through as expected, the Program Director, his wife, and other staff and volunteers have helped supplement costs to ensure that the program can continue to operate.The current program director, Officer Gerking, attended an intensive training in Portland on the G.R.E.A.T. model and how to implement it in schools. The G.R.E.A.T. curriculum materials and detailed facilitation instructions were provided at the training. The national G.R.E.A.T. organization holds several such trainings around the country and internationally each year and also hosts peer-to-peer learning opportunities.
Officer Gerking is himself trained to teach the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum to individuals and jurisdictions that are interested in implementing the model in their own communities.The G.R.E.A.T. Program partners closely with Kwawachee , Tribes Youth Center , Grandwiew Daycare as well as the Puyallup Tribal Police Department, which oversees it.Having a dream – Program staff felt that one of the largest factors contributing to success was the program staff had a dream and that they were able to engage people around them to help build that dream.
Youth participation – Youth are invited not only to participate, but to help plan the program every year. Program staff felt that this invests youth in the program, and also allows the program to respond to their needs. By engaging youth to be decision makers in how the program operates and develops, youth are also invited to learn valuable leadership skills.Building trust with students – Initially it took some time for students to warm up to the officers. The officers made themselves available, even when no one would attend their office hours, to demonstrate that they would be there in case the students needed them. With time and continuous effort, the officers were able to form positive relationships with youth at the school that spread to the entire community.
Lengthy work hours – Program officers and staff noted that to be able to put together a program as extensive as this one, you need to put in many extra hours. Though it can be exhausting to work late into the evening and at night, the staff all agreed that the effort was worth it.
Getting buy in – It took many years of persistent effort to overcome skepticism and successfully demonstrate to youth, parents, administrators, and tribal leaders that the program was worth investing in.
“You have to have the energy to work more than an eight hour day. You have to go above and beyond.”- Officer Allan GerkingStart small and build – Program staff stated that the though the program has become quite large, it started a small program and developed over time.
Keep developing – Program staff suggested that it was important to keep changing and developing as a program. It is easier to keep people engaged when you have new developments and changes to your program and it keeps the program from becoming stale.
“That’s what I was hoping, that maybe one day we would have this kind of program on the other reservations. Then we could exchange like they do student exchanges with other countries, we could do that with the other tribes, open those doors.” – Shirley LaPointeEach year, the program serves about 160 youth through their in-classroom prevention sessions. Additionally, the camp has grown substantially since 2005, when it served just 15 students–in 2015, the summer camp served 190 youth.Since the advent of the program, there has been a steep decline in gang activity in the Puyallup community generally and at the Chief Leschi School. Program staff estimate that related crime has decreased by nearly 80% since the implementation of the program. In 2005, during the height of the gang activity, there were 115 gang-related vandalism complaints, yet in 2014 there was only one gang-related vandalism complaint. There have been no gang-related homicides since 2005.
In addition, a large, multisite national evaluation of the G.R.E.A.T. program was recently conducted. Positive effects were found among youth both one year and four years after completion of the program. Some of the changes noted in the study included:
- More positive attitudes toward police
- More positive attitudes about police in the classroom
- Less positive attitudes about gangs
- More frequent use of refusal skills regarding violent and delinquent behaviors
- Less anger
- Lower rates of gang membership
- Higher rates of altruism
- Less risk-seeking behavior
Additionally, program staff, school administrators and many former youth participants corroborate that participation in the Puyallup G.R.E.A.T. program has indeed resulted in positive changes in youth attitudes and has had a positive impact on the entire community.
“I think from the point that I was going to that school to now is a drastic change. It was completely gang infested. You walk along any wall, you’d see there was just a line of gang members there. That was expected in a way. Now it’s definitely turned around. It’s a lot more cleaned up. It’s a much safer place.” – Josh Kelso, camp staff and former camp participant
“It seems like the gang stuff has really improved and they’re not so involved as they were before. They get involved in other things. Education, going on, moving on, working and being educated and taking care of things, doing what they should be doing.” – Shirley LaPointeThe response by the community has been extremely positive. Parents are eager to send their children to the G.R.E.A.T. summer camp, and numerous community members have donated land, materials and their time to building and maintaining the summer camp, and to working with the youth served by the program.
“A lot of the kids, they wouldn’t even talk to him at first when he came because they were afraid and was told not to talk to police. Over time, teaching in the classrooms, the kids opened up to him more. After a while, we start seeing families coming in and they, too, were talking to him. It just opened more doors for the school and the community.” – Shirley LaPointeOfficer Gerking conveyed the story of a boy whose older brother was a known gang member. When the older brother was arrested and faced 10 years in prison, he advised his younger brother to not follow his path and to “keep going to camp.”
“G.R.E.A.T. camp is a huge factor in the reason why I was able to go to college and actually get a full ride scholarship because my scholarship was for leadership. I really learned that here. Having kids look up to you because of that is really… It makes me feel good but also makes me want to continue to do good for them.” – Vicky Murray, camp counselor and former student
“Nowadays the gang presence is very minimal compared to what it used to be. People have been shown that gangs don’t really do much for the community, whereas this and programs like this , where you’re all about your community and being together and being healthy together, that’s what makes a community healthy. That’s where the biggest value of the G.R.E.A.T. program and camp is.” — David Murray, camp staff and former camp participant
“When the G.R.E.A.T. program started it took a little time to build up traction but I think it’s really the G.R.E.A.T. program that caused those gangs to pretty much diminish at the school. There’s a lot less drugs involved in the community.” — Vicky Murray, camp staff and former camp participantThe national G.R.E.A.T. Program website is
and offers detailed information about the curriculum and how to implement G.R.E.A.T. in your community.“There’s quite a few kids here I guess that their home lives are a lot different than they are treated here. Maybe they don’t have a dad there or their mom there or they’re with their grandparents and they’re doing stuff that isn’t really a good influence on them at home. When they come here, it makes it better because they learn that they don’t have to do that stuff. They learn that there’s a lot better things that they can do instead of what’s happening at home.” – Honor, camp counselor and former youth participant
“I think when get here they realize that not everyone drinks and not everyone does alcohol, and if they need someone to talk to, we’re here to basically listen to them and help them with their problems. We have adults here willing to talk to them about their problems and so it’s a really healthy environment.” – Lizzie, camp staff and former youth participant
“If you have a bad life at home or a not safe home, you come to camp and you find other people that you can go to for those situations and stuff like that and talk about it and have people that you can trust and have people that are behind your back.” – Sienna, camp staff and former youth participant
“I feel like how we have the camp during summer, it’s probably the best time because it’s more or less if kids aren’t doing something during the summer, they’re going to be going and doing other stuff that ain’t good, like they could be going to their friend’s house and they’re trying to convince them to do drugs and stuff. When they come here it’s like they have three weeks away from all of that.” – Timmie, camp staff and former youth participant
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