Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Arts can be effective tool in gang prevention

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As one involved in gang prevention programs in Montgomery County, I know these programs can and do make a difference. The July 25 editorial, ‘‘Taking a fresh approach on gangs,” touched on the need to balance prosecution of gang-related activity with prevention programs. One successful prevention and intervention strategy is through the implementation of arts programs.

The Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County has been involved in the Youth Advisory Council, a subset of the Anti-Gang Task Force, for the past few years. We’re working to ensure that youth identified as being at-risk for gang involvement and violence have opportunities that get them out of negative environments.

Since 2004, AHCMC has been working with six middle schools to mitigate delinquent behavior in young people. We are also launching an exciting new program called Telling Your Own Story, an arts and literacy based program for 75 youth ages 11-21. This program is a collaboration between five social service agencies already serving this population and five cultural organizations.

The importance of arts-based programs for at-risk youth was confirmed by the YouthARTS Development Project, a national study initiated in 1997 by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The study found anti-gang arts programs, like similar sports programs, nurture the development of social skills such as conflict resolution, self-control and collaboration and demonstrate improved self-esteem, positive peer associations, and resistance to peer pressure.

Arts education fosters a motivation to learn, to become and to stay engaged — and stay in school. Students participating in the arts are less likely to drop out of school or to engage in criminal behavior and more likely to succeed and become leaders in whatever field of endeavor they choose.

The arts are a proven method for deterring gang activity. Let’s make the most of this tool and others to save this generation of young people from incarceration — or worse. Our goal is to use creative prevention and intervention strategies to address youth development issues in a positive way.

For more information about arts anti-gang programs in Montgomery County and other similar programs contact the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.

Howard Spector, Silver Spring

The writer is director of Arts Education, Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.