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  • Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Rosaura Rodriguez is handed her certificate of completion of the G.R.E.A.T. program by Nashua Police Chief John Seusing on Tuesday evening in the library at Elm Street Middle School in Nashua. Gang Resistance Education And Training is a gang and violence prevention program put on by local police departments to help educate young people who are at risk for violence or gang activity.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Arnaldo Izquierdo gets his certificate from Nashua Police Chief John Seusing during the G.R.E.A.T Program graduation at Elm Street Junior High School.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Claudia Almonte Arnaldo gets his certificate from Nashua Police Chief John Seusing during the G.R.E.A.T Program graduation at Elm Street Junior High School.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Sue Almeida talks to participants in the G.R.E.A.T. Program at Elm Street Middle School, Tuesday evening during the graduation program in the school's library.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Det. Ty Kucharski congratulates students who participated in the G.R.E.A.T. Program at Elm Street Middle School in Nashua.
Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nashua middle school students get trained in gang resistance

NASHUA – Arnaldo Izquierdo used to think people who happened to be wearing a lot of red on a given day were probably connected to a street gang.

And for all he knew, all those spray-painted and marker-generated scrawls on posts, walls, bridges and buildings were nothing more than meaningless scribbles done by bored or mischievous kids.

Not so, the Elm Street Middle School seventh-grader learned over the last three months.

“I always thought red meant gangs,” he said. “Now I know they might just like the color red.”

Arnaldo is one of 10 Elm Street students who graduated earlier this week from the city’s first Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) course, a 13-week program designed to instill life skills in youths of elementary and middle school age through education and awareness, and to prevent delinquency, youth violence, gang activity, cyber bullying, personal bullying and other adolescent problems.

Nashua police officers Nicole Brooks and Ty Kucharski, facilitators of the course, said teaching the kids about colors, gestures, “tagging” – or graffiti – and other common gang conventions was a significant part of the curriculum.

“We covered all those points, and later on discussed bullying, drugs, smoking and how to avoid those behaviors,” Brooks said. “An important part of this is we want all kids to feel comfortable talking with police officers.”

G.R.E.A.T., founded nationally in 1991, is taught by police officers at participating schools once a week. In Nashua, the program debuted at Elm Street in late 2011 as part of its 21st Century After School Program after district coordinator Sue Almeida learned about it during a meeting with Nashua Police Sgt. Denis Linehan.

“When I heard about it, I wanted to take it a step further,” Almeida said. “I thought, ‘This is great,’ because we know this is the age to start helping our children make the right choices.”

With Linehan’s assistance, Almeida and Christine Celata, Elm Street’s after-school coordinator, set up what turned out to be the first G.R.E.A.T. program in New Hampshire.

After Brooks and Kucharski completed the two-week instructors course, they were named facilitators.

Besides learning that some types of graffiti is gang-related, Arnaldo said, he discovered there can be hidden meanings in what people may do with their hands.

“I didn’t know that some of these guys were giving gang signs,” he said. “Now I know if I see those to just go the other way.”

Debra Kent said she “was all for it” when her sixth-grade daughter, Gabrielle, came home saying an assembly was held about G.R.E.A.T. and she wanted to take part.

“I don’t know how big a problem gangs are in Nashua, but it’s a big enough city” that they could be, Kent said, adding they’ve lived in Nashua about five years. “Gabby’s a kid who knows right from wrong, but the more she learns, the better.”

Gabrielle, a quiet girl who worked her way through a plate of cupcakes after the program, said the course opened her eyes to a lot of things.

“I found out things I didn’t know about gangs and bullying and what to do if you see something happening,” she said.

“What would you do if you saw gang things going on?” Kent asked her daughter.

“Tell someone right away,” Gabrielle answered.

Kucharski and Brooks, along with Linehan, Chief John Seusing, Almeida and Celata attended the graduation ceremony Wednesday evening with the honorees, some parents and a number of siblings in the Elm Street library.

“I’m very proud of all you guys, and I’m sure your parents are, as well,” Kucharski told the graduates. “This is a group of very bright and creative kids. I hope you all enjoyed the time we spent together as much as I did.”

Seusing called the success of the pilot program “a real team effort.”

“We know how important it is to make this program available to everyone,” Seusing said of the city’s schools.

In January, Pennichuck Middle School began a G.R.E.A.T. program, which Brooks facilitated while Kucharski continued at Elm Street. Almeida said plans to offer a six-week G.R.E.A.T. program for third- and fourth-graders are in the works.

G.R.E.A.T. programs take place in a majority of states, which are divided into four regions. Funded by the Department of Justice since 2004, the program now consists of four components:

A 13-session middle school curriculum.

An elementary school curriculum.

A summer program.

Families training.

Leaders have also developed partnerships with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Association of Police Athletic Leagues.

National statistics show that more than 12,000 law enforcement officers have been certified as G.R.E.A.T. instructors, and the programs have graduated nearly 6 million students in its 21 years.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or