In 2009 the Santa Barbara School District launched an intervention program for some of the students identified by school personnel as possibly involved in gangs. In this pilot year the program was evaluated by a research team led by Dr. Victor Rios, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, to document the program’s implementation, analyze program efficacy, and determine student needs. This evaluation included qualitative pre test surveys completed by 59 students and qualitative post test surveys completed by 84 students. These surveys were designed to measure the students’ attitudes towards school, community and family, and also allowed for the confidential reporting of violence, victimization, crime and gang-involvement. The evaluation also consisted of participant observations of group sessions, events and workshops in which four researchers shadowed the outreach worker to witness the immediate impact participation in the program had on students. The evaluators also conducted forty in-depth interviews with individual students and ten focus group interviews. These interviews included open-ended and structured questions regarding their perceptions of the outreach worker and how he has impacted their perceptions and aspirations. Finally, grade, attendance, suspension, and citizenship data were analyzed in an attempt to measure academic progress.
We found that the program’s “Gang Intervention Specialist” (from here on “outreach worker” or “GIS”) employs a motivational approach that is supported by the findings of previous evaluations of gang prevention and intervention programs. A motivational approach emphasizes building a one-on-one relationship based on trust and advocacy. Some of the leading researchers specializing in gang intervention programs have concluded that these motivational, “detached worker programs” are particularly suited for helping gang youth by connecting with them on their level. Outreach workers with similar backgrounds who can understand the experiences of the students they work with are adept at connecting these youth with school and community.
Overall, the outreach worker appears to be meeting the school district’s primary goals of connecting the students with school and reducing the level of gang related conflict and violence. For example, students reported greater levels of attachment to school six months after the evaluation’s pre test surveys. 71% of students reported that grades were always or usually very important to them in the post test survey and 54.2% indicated that they wanted to achieve a university degree, which represented a dramatic rise from the 26% who claimed to have similar aspirations in the pre test. Students also reported lower rates of delinquency, victimization, and pressure to join gangs after their participation in the outreach program. The program has been found as overall effective based on the improvement of student levels of self-esteem, educational attitudes, and self-reported decrease in negative gang behaviors.
Thirty of 110 students that Mr. Huerta worked with, or 27% raised, their G.P.A by at least .25 points within two marking periods. 51% of students experienced no change in their G.P.A. 22% of students saw a drop of .25 points or more in their G.P.A. No significant changes in citizenship, attendance, or suspensions were found.