A new tactic is needed to sway youth from the powerful clutches of drugs and violence, and Philadelphia Safe and Sound believes it has it.
It's called GRAV - Get Real About Violence.
"It's a curriculum designed to be taught in school or in after-school settings, built around improving violence-resistance skills in youth," said Wendy Johnson, director of youth programs at Safe and Sound, a nonprofit organization working to improve the health and well-being of young people in the Philadelphia region.
"We have different versions of the curriculum, tailored for kindergarten to 12th grade."
Last week, the GRAV program was implemented at Edward Gideon Elementary School, in the Strawberry Mansion section.
"Everybody is struggling to find a solution to violence in the city," Johnson said. "This is seen as one approach."
The curriculum avoids overused and tired slogans such as Guns are bad or Don't shoot people, Johnson said. The program takes a "dead-ahead" approach to violence, he said, and the youngsters seem to pick up on it.
"It's a very interactive approach. One of the things [instructors] use is a video, targeted to middle- and high-school youth, which shows three kids in a form of purgatory," Johnson said.
"These three are being interviewed by different people, and discussing how they got to this point."
According to Johnson, the video is compelling because the young people are seen as being on the cusp of death but make decisions to change their lives.
"It really points to some of those thoughts around violence," Johnson said. "A lot of times, kids get into situations that start out small and then escalate into something bigger."
Gideon is among 45 users of the GRAV curriculum, Johnson said. Others include Education Works, Methodist Services for Children and Families, and Congreso de Latinos Unidos.
"We've been training provider agencies since last fall," said Johnson, who oversees the program's instructors. "Right now, there are 50 programs that are providing the curriculum to youth," and others getting ready.