GRIT gang reduction program

Gary Garza, a former school resource officer with the Yakima Police Department, poses for a portrait on Monday, March 11, 2019 near Franklin Middle School in Yakima, Wash. Garza worked with 10 students and their families, five from Franklin Middle School and five from Lewis and Clark Middle School, as part of the pilot gang prevention program Gang Reduction Task Force (GRIT) led by the city. The city recently received a grant to expand the program.

The city of Yakima has been awarded a $230,000 grant from the Department of Justice to continue its youth gang suppression efforts.

The Yakima City Council will discuss authorizing a resolution to accept the grant at its Tuesday meeting.

Documents attached to the council’s agenda detail how the city plans to administer the program over the next three years and the responsibilities that the city, as well as Educational Service District 105 and the Yakima School District, will have to make the program a success.

The city piloted a youth gang prevention program through a $150,000 grant awarded by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018. That program connected 10 sixth-graders — five at Lewis and Clark Middle School and five at Franklin Middle School — to an intervention specialist for three months. The program also created a steering committee and the “Village,” a network of community leaders and organizations dedicated to reducing gang violence in Yakima.

The goal was to create a program and data that would allow the city to go after additional grants to continue the effort.

The city received word on Sept. 26 that Yakima had been chosen for the grant, payable over three years, for a total yearly amount of about $76,000. The plan is to build on the pilot program and reach more students.

The program would be extended to four city middle schools: Franklin, Lewis and Clark, Wilson and Washington. Up to 30 students will be served at any given time, with the hope that between 50 and 75 students participate each year. The goal is to serve 150 students and their families over three years.

Educational advocates will meet twice a week with students to check-in on attendance, grades, behaviors and any resources needed by the youths or their families. They will monitor students’ performances weekly, connect youths and their families to resources, and provide parenting coaching to the families.

The school district will have an assembly for all sixth-grade students, at least once a year, that addresses making good choices and staying away from gangs, and an educational seminar for parents, also at least once a year, on topics related to gangs.

The program also will require monthly meetings of the steering committee. “Village” meetings would happen every other month.

Goals include decreased gang involvement for sixth-graders, as well as decreased disciplinary issues and youth gang violence. Organizers want to increase instructional time, school engagement and attendance for students.

The city of Yakima will need to repurpose a position in the Yakima Police Department for three years to serve as a program coordinator. The person will convene Village meetings, foster partnerships and help with program evaluation efforts. The coordinator will devote 50% of full-time work to the program in the first year. An additional city staff member who will double as the program supervisor will devote 10% of full-time hours to the program.

The Yakima School District has promised to allow the education advocates access to students during the school day and to provide space for the assembly for all sixth-graders. The school district also will coordinate the parent educational seminar, to be held in the evening or on a weekend and to include a meal and childcare to increase attendance.

ESD 105 has agreed to hire the three part-time educational advocates based at ESD 105. Advocates will be expected to spend at least 10 hours a week in the schools, in addition to 11 hours of evening work annually to connect with parents.

Also on the Tuesday agenda are a status update on the city’s negotiations with Alex Meyerhoff, selected as interim city manager; possible authorization of a lease with Food Facility Engineering Inc. for property at the airport; and a resolution regarding the city creating a temporary, emergency cold weather shelter.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 129 N. Second St.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.