Juvenile gang members contribute a disproportionate percentage of violent crime that has Antelope Valley residents alarmed, according to law enforcement officials, who blame what they consider to be an antiquated judicial system for failing to create a meaningful deterrent. But writing off a generation of juvenile gang members isn’t a viable option, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said. “I’m not a believer in the idea that you can just give up on an entire segment of the population,” Baca said. “You do that, and pretty soon you’re going to end up with people committing serious crimes.” Principal James Norris, who oversees all 13 of the contract schools, said the alternative education program offers regular academic curriculum but also job-training programs, counseling for students with drug and alcohol dependency, and anger-management programs. Technology Drive school also plays host to a Vital Intervention Directional Alternatives program that has been lauded by prominent law enforcement leaders, including Baca, for effectively addressing troubled kids’ needs. Norris said all 10 alternative-education schools offer after-school programs designed to keep kids active in the late afternoon and early evening hours when experts say they are most likely to find trouble. “A lot of us would be out committing crimes if we weren’t here,” said a 14-year-old boy who plays on the basketball team. Norris said the Antelope Valley’s Principal’s Administrative Unit needs to expand. It is eying properties on 25th Street East and Palmdale Boulevard in Palmdale, and on 17th Street West and Avenue J in Lancaster. He acknowledged that neighbors have expressed concern about future expansion, especially at the proposed Palmdale site because of its proximity to McAdams Park. Opposition to the proposed expansion is based on the assumption that the program’s students are someone else’s problem, he said. “Everyone wants to make it seem like they’re from somewhere else, like they fell from Mars or something. But these are our kids, they’re from the Antelope Valley,” Norris said. “They’re looking for someone to accept them, and right now the only ones reaching out to them are the drug addicts, pushers and gangs.” The PAU has about 60 employees, including 42 instructors. Norris cites the support of acting Assistant Superintendent David Flores, Superintendent Darlene Robles and board of education President Sophia Waugh, with providing the PAU with the necessary tools to meet the growing demand. “Without them, there would be no us,” Norris said. Many of the program’s students cherish their second chance. “A lot of people don’t think I’m going to amount to anything, so I really want to prove them wrong,” said Patrick Grissom, a 16-year-old who plays on the school’s basketball team. Santoyo said he also takes his students on varied field trips that show where the life choices they make now may lead. He took his students to see the UCLA campus on one trip, and on another to Lancaster’s state prison, where inmates explain how bad decisions led them to incarceration. “Not every kid’s going to listen, but if we can save one, then we’re making a huge difference,” Norris said. Santoyo laments the circumstances most of his students were raised in, noting that many have family members who’ve been victims of violent crime, and they have learned the grieving process at too young an age. He says outings such as the trip to the Clippers game allow him to peer beyond the facades that they maintain for survival. “That was like the real them; they were just having fun,” Santoyo said. “It was a very special moment for me to see that.” [email protected] (661) 267-7802 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! PALMDALE – Alex Santoyo feared the worst. Santoyo, a senior program specialist who works with so-called “last-chance” teens at Palmdale’s Technology Drive Community Day School, was taking his students to a Los Angeles Clippers game at Staples Center on a field trip he acknowledged was fraught with peril. “What if they get into trouble? What if they see members of (rival) gangs?” Santoyo recalls thinking to himself. “If they do something wrong, they’re going to make all of us look bad.” It was with those concerns racing through Santoyo’s mind that he heard surprising sounds emanating from the back of the bus. “They were singing like elementary school students,” Santoyo said. “Some of them were even playing patty-cake. You could see these tough guys, they had tears in their eyes.” Santoyo said the experience humanized a segment of the population that some wish would simply go away. Technology Drive Community Day School, which sits on the corner of Technology Drive and 10th Street West, is among 13 Antelope Valley Principal’s Administrative Unit schools – 10 alternative schools and three California Safe Schools that serve pregnant teens – contracted by local school districts for students whose circumstances vary widely. Some have simply fallen behind on their schoolwork. Others have criminal backgrounds. About 12 percent of the 300 area alternative-education students are on probation, and an even higher percentage are known by law enforcement to be members of criminal street gangs, a school official said.
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