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June 7, 2016

How Reading Partners Sacramento is aiming to reduce gang activity

Literacy rates have long-term impacts on the health and wellness of a community. Helping students learn to read can give them the skills they need to succeed in school and life — creating a vast safety net of support for children whose futures may be at risk without reading intervention. One such risk is gang activity.

According to the National Gang Center, the most recent estimate is that there are approximately 850,000 gang members throughout the United States, with a 8.6 percent increase from the previous year. Imagine if our nation could stop that cycle from continuing through strategic investments in our children — like education.

While there are many contributing factors to gang-growth, one way to disrupt the pathway to gang behavior is by boosting academic confidence and achievement. Failure to master basic reading skills can lead to low self-confidence and disruptive behaviors, which can make it hard for students to graduate from high school. Without a high school degree or employable skills, the choices for these students are limited at best and can quickly lead to poor decision-making, gang involvement, or incarceration. In fact, youth with low academic achievement are three times more likely to join gangs.

According to the Sacramento Police Department, 1,249 individuals in Sacramento participated in gang related activity in 2015. Twenty-two percent of homicides last year were attributed to gang members, and gun seizures from listed gang members has increased 16 percent since 2014. Gangs are a serious problem that impact the entire Sacramento community, thus requiring a community-wide response.

At Reading Partners, we know that grade-level reading unlocks opportunity. As we mobilize caring community members to become tutors and mentors as a way to create positive outcomes for our students, we are also building a resilient community. Research shows strong links between literacy and positive youth and adult outcomes, especially as related to the juvenile justice context. Improving test scores and academic achievement can also help to reduce violence and bullying in schools as the Hechinger Report announced this month.

Considering the challenge of gang activity that faces so many cities in the US, Reading Partners is proud to launch a new partnership with the City of Sacramento’s Gang Prevention and Intervention Taskforce. The mission of the The Sacramento Gang Prevention and Intervention Taskforce is to combat the increased gang activity in Sacramento. Their focus is to address gang related violence in a comprehensive, strategic way, knowing that “this is a problem we cannot arrest our way out of.”

With a grant for $45,000 from the City of Sacramento, along with other generous local funders, this fall, Reading Partners will open two new reading centers at Michael J. Castori Elementary and Northwood Elementary in Del Paso Heights with the goal of enrolling 100 students. Over 96 percent of students at these schools come from low-income homes and a neighborhood with frequent gang activity. We are looking forward to helping more students stay on track to graduate high school and break the school-to-prison pipeline.

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