Gang-resistance education: Teaching youth anti-gang and life skills in a turbulent time

Jun 02, 2011

With crimes among youths seemingly increasing across the region, educating children and young adults on resisting violence and learning needed life skills has become a priority.

Join Warren Harding, ATF's G.R.E.A.T. Program Outreach Coordinator, Thursday, June 2, at noon ET, as he chats about school based prevention programs and the importance of educating your own children on gang, drug and violence resistance.

The Gang Resistance Education And Training or "G.R.E.A.T." program will graduate 40 Hart Middle School students from the program at 12:00 p.m., Friday, June 3, 2011, and mark GREAT's 20th anniversary. The anti-gang program teaches students to avoid gangs, violence and delinquency and is taught by specially trained ATF agents and other law enforcement officers across the country. Since 1991 G.R.E.A.T. has graduated more than 6 million students and certified as G.R.E.A.T. instructors more than 12,000 law enforcement officers and professionals from 2,400 agencies.

Hello, I’m Warren Harding, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Washington.  I’m ATF's G.R.E.A.T. Program Outreach Coordinator, and I am happy to be joined today by Lt. Raj Ramnarace with the La Crosse Police Department, which is a Regional Training Center for the G.R.E.A.T. program.  Together,  we will answer your questions about the Department of Justice’s Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program, which marks its 20th anniversary this year.   The G.R.E.A.T. program is taught around the country by ATF agents and other federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement organizations.  This year, a former G.R.E.A.T. student who serves as a VISTA coordinator at Hart Middle School in Washington, D.C., invited the G.R.E.A.T. program to come to Hart to work with 7th grade students.
Please feel free to join this conversation about the G.R.E.A.T. program and send us your questions.     

Hi there... how do you choose which kids are selected for the program? And how would I be able to enroll my child?

The kids we reach with the G.R.E.A.T. program generally participate in two ways: either in late elementary grades or early middle school grades in which all or most students at a grade level in their schools participate in G.R.E.A.T.; or they are involved as participants in G.R.E.A.T.'s Summer or Family programs. We are a universal life skills program that encourages participation by all.

Is the GREAT program offered in any schools in South Carolina? If yes, in what city/school?

We do have communities participating in G.R.E.A.T. in various parts of South Carolina. Please contact Regional Administrator Sgt. to find out what it takes to find G.R.E.A.T. in your area.  Or call 615-880-3010.

How do you teach black kids and Hispanic kids? Both have different cultures and different codes, as well as languages.

Our materials and training stress engaging youths from all cultural and socio economic backgrounds. We do publish materials in Spanish for our Latino students.

The District seems to have considerable problems with youth violence. Is this program in all of DC's schools?


The D.C. school district does not have G.R.E.A.T. in any school other than Hart Middle School at this time. The program was invited to Hart at the request of a former G.R.E.A.T. student who now works as a VISTA coordinator at Hart Middle School.  

I once observed a troubled juvenile session I found quite interesting: the theory is many young, immature people commit bad actions against others because they have not fullly developed the abiility to feel empathy. They did role playing where they played the roles of their victims. Many stated they finally understood the harm of their actions. Does your education program help develop empathy and what are your thoughts on what I observed?

Yes, our program does address empathy, while also providing real-world scenarios in which actions and empathy are important.

Is there a difference between teaching a student how to behave in a polite manner and how to avoid the violence of gangs and bullies? I know the job would be easier if the gangs didn't already exist. I know that not everyone is able to grow up in a safe and loving environment which may lead some to see acceptance from other outlets, including gangs.

In G.R.E.A.T. we stress core life-skills such as communication, conflict-resolution, and anger management. Whether dealing with bullies or gang-members, we give our students the practical skills needed to resist involvement in violence. Our kids commit to making their schools and their communities better places.

Have you any idea the number of children who need this kind of program? What can parents do to ensure that their kids get the kind of instruction they need?

Since its inception 20 years ago, G.R.E.A.T. has reached approximately 6 million students across the country. We find that all kids can benefit from the life-skills G.R.E.A.T. teaches. No kid is immune from the influences of violence, bullying, or gang violence.

Hello.... How much does it cost for the program? And do parents have to pay for this?

The program is free of charge to schools and parents.  All we ask of schools is to have the time to work with students in their classrooms. Our member agencies, typically, law enforcement departments, provide trained staff and materials. Parents and their children are not asked to pay for classroom participation or participation in G.R.E.A.T. Families.

Hi there.... Who are the people who teach the program and where are the classes held/ Can anyone enroll their child in the program?

We are fortunate to have thousands of criminal justice professionals and agencies dedicating their time and resources to reach the students in their communities. Our facilitators go through an extensive training process to prepare them to work with students in a variety of ways.

Has there been a rigorous evlauation of GREAT using randomization, control or comparison groups, or other "gold standard" evaluation research strategies?

G.R.E.A.T. has been evaluated in two national evaluations conducted by the National Institute of Justice. The second of those is not yet completed, however in both cases G.R.E.A.T. has been shown to positively change attitudes and behaviors of students. Moreover, students and teachers overwhelmingly like G.R.E.A.T.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance and other members of the G.R.E.A.T. national partnership support regular reviews of our program in an effort to ensure that we are providing the best available resources to our members and the communities they serve.

With all the fiscal irresponsibility and lack of money issues occurring right now, it seems the best prevention and intervention programs always get their funding diminished or cut completely. The Police Athletic Leagues and Boys and Girls Clubs are good examples. All the research shows, and in fact gang members themselves have said, that prevention/intervention activities, as well as good role models and a better family atmosphere are needed to curb the gang problems in society. How can we accomplish this goal if the funding for the programs that work are always the first programs to lose their funding?

Since G.R.E.A.T.'s inception in 1991 we have worked to develop partnerships with other youth-serving organizations such as PAL, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Families and Schools Together. 

The program began as an eight-lesson, middle school curriculum and trained its first GREAT law enforcement officers in early 1992.  Six years later (1998), four law enforcement agencies were added to assist in the administration of the program:   La Crosse Police Department, Wis.; Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Fla.; Philadelphia Police Department; and Portland Police Bureau, Ore. 


Currently, the GREAT Program has four regions and training sites:  Southeast -  Nashville Police Department, Nashville, Tenn.; Midwest Atlantic  - La Crosse Police Department, La Crosse, Wis.; Western - Portland Police Bureau, Portland, Ore.; and  Southwest - Phoenix Police Department.


In 2004, by an act of Congress, administration of the GREAT Program transferred from ATF to the Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), at the Department of Justice.  In October 2004, BJA awarded a grant to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR) to provide national training coordination services and related tasks.


Our continued ability to reach communities and students depends on their support, and the continued support of our members and our national partners.


Is it difficult to attract and retain young men to your programs? How do you keep them invested in the actitivites?

Our G.R.E.A.T. instructors build positive relationships with their students, and maintain those relationships. It is common for our G.R.E.A.T. instructors to run into former G.R.E.A.T. students. In fact, the VISTA Site Coordinator at Hart Middle School is a former G.R.E.A.T. student ourself. She was the one who reached out  to us to get G.R.E.A.T. involved with her school.

Thanks so much everyone for the great questions.  If you would like more information about the G.R.E.A.T. program, please visit and and

In This Chat
Warren Harding
Mr. Harding is ATF's G.R.E.A.T. Program Outreach Coordinator and he is a Training Specialist assigned to the Continuing Education Training Branch, in Washington, D.C. Mr. Harding is a veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department where he retired in January of 2001.

Mr. Harding was a Management Analyst for ATF's G.R.E.A.T. Program Branch. He served as the National Training Team Coordinator (NTTC) and Educator Coordinator while assigned to ATF's G.R.E.A.T. Program Branch he was responsible for the management of the National Training Team. Warren was part of the development committee that developed the new 13-week G.R.E.A.T. middle'school curriculum, the new elementary curriculum and the new G.R.E.A.T. Families.

Mr. Harding has been teaching school based prevention programs such as GREAT and DARE Programs for sixteen years. He is currently teaching the middle-school curriculum in the Philadelphia Public School System.

Mr. Harding has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Relations, with a minor in Social Work from Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.
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