A lesson plan to go with “Saying no to gang life” from the September 2010 issue of L.A. Youth. In this article, a writer shares how growing up surrounded by gangs had her dreaming of joining a gang. But after her cousin was killed in a drive-by shooting, which was common in her neighborhood, she saw that she could be headed for a similar fate and distanced herself from the gang lifestyle.

By Mike Fricano, co-managing editor

Grades: 7-12
Subjects: language arts, social studies, life skills
Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

• copies of the article “Saying no to gang life” (one per student)
• pens and paper
• white board or blackboard

Students will examine how the neighborhood they live in influences their lives and their goals for the future.

Write the word “neighborhood” on the board and have your students write lists of three to five words or phrases that describe where they live. Next ask volunteers to share their list with the rest of the class and write their answers on the board. They might have chosen words/phrases like “peaceful,” “dirty,” “lots of things to do,” “families,” “dangerous,” “ocean views,” “lots of nice cars.”

Using the lists they shared, ask your students how their neighborhoods have influenced them. A student who lives near the beach might be someone who is passionate about protecting the beaches and oceans from pollution. Another person, who lives in a neighborhood that has gangs, might have a negative feeling toward police because they think the cops harass innocent people and don’t do enough to stop criminals. Someone who lives in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot to do, might spend most of their time inside watching TV. Or someone who lives in a neighborhood where many people they know dropped out of high school, might say that finishing college is a priority so they have a different life than what they’ve observed.

Have your students read the story “Saying no to gang life” on pages 10-12. After reading the story, ask students to make a list of the ways the writer was influenced by her neighborhood and the people she knew growing up. There are examples of how the writer emulated those around her and examples of how her environment inspired her to be different.

Examples of how she was following the path she thought she was destined for:

• She dreamed of joining a gang because she admired how people in the neighborhood gave her cousin and other gang members free food at restaurants and money.
• She and her friends started a tagging crew in middle school and modeled it after the gangs they knew.
• A shared feeling of not having a family to support them contributed to her and her friends starting the tagging crew.
• She started using cocaine because the gang members she knew gave it to her as payment for helping them sell marijuana.
• She figured she would drop out of high school and get pregnant because most of her older friends had.

Examples of her trying to be different:

• After her cousin’s funeral, her friends wanted her to forget her problems by smoking marijuana, but she realized that wouldn’t help her feel better.
• A new friend she made at school told her that she didn’t have to be in a crew.
• Seeing that so many people she knew ended up victims of violence or even dead, made her realize that she didn’t want to end up the same.

Writing assignment:
Combining your students ideas raised from the discussion with the examples of how the writer was influenced by her neighborhood, have them write an essay about how they are both similar to and different from the environments they’ve grown up in. Make sure that they explain in their essays why they think they are different or similar? How has their environment shaped their goals?

Extension activity:
None of us live in neighborhoods that are free from negative influences. And we all wish for things that we don’t have in our neighborhoods. While it can be hard for teens to change things at the government level, they wield some power at their schools. What do your students think could be added at the school that would be a good influence? Challenge them to start a club or program that they think will improve the school and make it a more positive place.