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Turn-A-Round program an alternative to gangs

ALBANY, Ga. -- Trying to resolve school behavior problems in students before they escalate into jail sentences, the Dougherty County School System uses a program dubbed "Turn-A-Round."

"We want to help our children by catching them first," said Ester Anderson a program leader, "so the Albany Police will never have to see them."

Anderson and another school official, Gwen Seabrooks, spoke at the June Gang Task Force and Violence Prevention Meeting in the Government Center Thursday.

Anderson said that the program focuses on academics, is 45 days long and is administered at South Georgia Regional Achievement Center on Highland Avenue.

The program emphasizes a one-on-one interaction between the teachers in small class settings, Anderson said.

"We used to do it for two weeks, but we found it wasn't much benefit," Anderson said. "We changed it to 45 days, one grading period, and got good results."

Once students go through their 45-day program, their behavior, grades and well-being improve and they don't want to return, Seabrooks said. Others become so accustomed to the attention that they don't want to leave the program but they must, she added.

The program requires the students to have their pants up, their shirts tucked in and to respectfully say good morning. Field trips are taken to see judges who talk to the children in hopes they won't have to see them in the courtroom later in their lives.

Life skills such as anger management and assertiveness training are also taught, Seabrooks said. The students are taught to stand up for themselves and not give into peer pressure that can lead to alcohol and drugs usage.

Another part of the program, a parenting class, is expected to be added to the schedule when schools open in the fall, Seabrooks said. It will be mandatory that parents attend, she added.

The program was described as a collaborative effort between the school system, police and the courts by Seabrooks.

"Our children need us and we need to help them," Seabrooks said. "It isn't just in academics but in everything, we must help them."

Other members of the Gang Task Force such as Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul and Albany Police Lt. Tony Moore emphasized the need for children to remain in school and for parents to become more involved with their children.

"I see inmates in jail that I knew their grandfathers when they were in jail," Sproul said. "We have to get the parents involved to finally break this vicious cycle."