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Local anti-gang effort brings parents into fold

By Stanley B. Chambers Jr., Staff Writer
The Durham News and The News & Observer
Used with permission

The conversation centered around the ideal parent and the ideal child, but Antonio and Leslie Batiste wanted one thing: for their 16-year-old son to stop "listening to his peers more than us."

Every Wednesday evening, the Batistes and about four other families meet with Durham officers to talk about how they can improve communication inside their homes.

The effort is part of the Gang Resistance Education and Training Families curriculum. The Durham Police Department is the first in the state to expand the program to include parents.

Officers have used the program to teach anti-gang and decision-making courses to fourth and sixth graders in Durham elementary and middle schools since 2002. They now provide the classes in 16 elementary and five middle schools.

They've taught about 2,100 kids between June 2008 and January 2009, said Durham police Sgt. J.L. Jackson, who runs the local program.

During the workshops, the issues are serious, but the tone of conversation is low key.

Points are made through skits, sound advice and occasional humor. Parents and their children sit together through most of the classes but are split up to have more detailed discussions.

The dialog at a recent workshop focused on a skit about a father who confronted his daughter about missing three days of school. The children quickly identified problems such as lack of communication and talking back, as well as solutions such as turning the music down and relaxing before speaking with a child.

Both groups later talked about their ideal parent and child. Antonio Batiste had a simple request.

"I just want him to know that no matter what, I'm there, even if he's mad at me," he said about his stepson. "I'd rather for you to run to us because I've seen what you're looking at and I can help you. These kids are not going to help you, they're going to influence you to do more and more, and that trust is going to widen out."

Batiste and his wife received some reassurance from Officer Mark Walkowe, one of the program's instructors.

"Anything that's built on a lie or built on deception is going to fall," Walkowe said. "It's just a matter of time. What's cool is the unity that you and your husband have is what's going to hold everything together."

The workshops help parents better communicate with their children at home, which hopefully will reduce the chances they will get into trouble at school or in the streets, Jackson said. Parents also learn about gangs, and their children see the consequences of gang life.

The classes have already paid dividends for Batiste and his family.

"It teaches us to communicate better than what we've been doing," he said. "Not to say that we've done a bad job, but it gets more into detail about how to reach a child and have them talk back to us. We want our children to talk to us instead of talking to their peers."

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