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GMS begins gang prevention program

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By April Wright, Reporter

Galax School Board members believe a new middle and elementary school gang prevention program could help deter students from joining street gangs and educate them on how to respect others.

This gang prevention program, which will be offered to sixth graders at Galax Middle School, came as a result of an adult who was charged with recruiting GMS students to join the “Bloods” street gang between the months of January and March this year.

The school’s resource officer, Vickie Taylor, participated in a 40-hour gang prevention training program in Pennsylvania in May, learning not only about gang violence but also how to teach ethics and morals to students so they won’t be lured into gang activity. She will bring that information to middle school students in the fall, beginning Nov. 5.

“This program will be interesting to the students because it gets them involved,” said Taylor. “They will participate in scenarios and will be provided with booklets.”

Once the 13-week, one hour per week program is complete, students will participate in a city cleanup that reveals the devastating effects of gang vandalism. The training will be held during phys ed classes.

“If we can reach them at an early age, I feel like we can really help them,” said Taylor.

“This is something that every group, regardless of age, should participate in,” said board member Donna Garland. “This program is impressive.”

In other action, the board:

• looked a the policy regarding student absences to ensure there are no problems with the policy already in place. The board wants to improve issues regarding absences, excuses, and dismissals. The policy is as follows:

In addition to calling guardians each time a child is absent from school, the system also follows an appeals procedure of notifying parents and coming up with a plan to get children back into school.

After a student misses five days, the school sends a letter home to the guardian, notifying them that their child’s classroom attendance is vital. After 10 days of unexcused absences, parents and school administration meet to discuss an attendance plan.

After 15 days, parents must meet with a team — made up of representatives from social services, the Galax Police Department, Mount Rogers Community Services and the court system — to discuss a more effective attendance plan.

After 20 days, the school system is required to make a court referral.

“Good attendance works better for students,” said Superintendent Sam Cook, “and absences lead to dropouts and other failures.”

• noted that Galax High School offices are now completed in the facility’s ongoing renovation project. Principal Bill Sturgill moved into his newly renovated office last Wednesday.

• noted that 171 students scored a 600 on Virginia SOL tests.

• recapped the school’s census for 2008, in which the goal was to count all children ages 5-19 residing within the City of Galax using means other than going door-to-door due to safety concerns and costs.

Address information was provided from 911 coordinator and Galax City offices, post cards were sent out, a form was printed in The Gazette, phone calls were made, letters were sent to each student, etc.

The census found that there are 1,304 people between the ages of 5-19 in the city.

• reorganized for the 2008-09 school year. Ray Kohl was reappointed as chairman, Theresa Lazo was reappointed as vice chair, Kara Graham was reappointed clerk of the board and Rebecca Cardwell and Kathy Halsey were reappointed as deputy clerks.

• appointed Lazo to attend the Virginia School Boards Association annual convention, and Garland was appointed as alternate.

• appointed Garland to serve as a representative of the Southwest Virginia Governor’s School.

• appointed Dr. Jim Adams as representative for Crossroads Institute Center for Technology and Entrepreneurial Studies Committee.

• decided to continue to hold school board meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Galax High School library.

• was provided with a booklet of policy revisions, which it approved.

• recommended Brown, Edwards and Company as auditors of the activities funds account.

• approved the 2008-09 school year bus routes, which are similar to those of last school year. The board also noted that the city school system received a new bus.

• recommended and approved Scholastic Insurers for the 2008-2009 school year. Cost is $9 for the school time plan; $42 for the 24-hour plan; $47 for the 24-hour plan with extended dental; and $35 for the high school football plan.