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.

New state funding will allow the Yakima School District to hire a fourth education advocate aimed at gang prevention.

The Yakima City Council on Tuesday accepted $50,000 from Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, which will pay for an additional middle school educational advocate for sixth graders through June 30, 2021.

The council also approved a continuing partnership between the Yakima School District and Educational Service District 105 that supports the educational advocates at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The educational advocates are tied to a youth leadership program that Yakima piloted in the spring semester of 2019. That program authorized an intervention specialist to work with 10 sixth graders at Lewis and Clark and Franklin middle schools, with a focus on helping youths make good choices and stay away from gangs.

Data collected from the pilot program showed improvement in students’ grades, behavior and attendance. That helped the city get grant funding through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The grant funded three advocates to provide mentoring, advocacy and resources for sixth-grade students and their families within the Yakima School District.

New funding for the fourth position means all Yakima School District middle schools will have an advocate.

ESD 105 will hire and pay the advocate, who will work about 630 hours throughout the school year and summer. The person will meet twice weekly with up to 20 program participants to check in on grades, attendance and behavior, and help connect the youths and their families to any needed community resources. The advocate will connect youths who complete the program to at least one caring coach, teacher, mentor or counselor.