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Press Release

U.S. Attorney’s Office Launches Program in Elementary Schools to Teach Fifth Graders to Make Good Choices

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Assistant U. S. Attorney Marietta Geckos (619) 546-6952

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – October 21, 2016

SAN DIEGO - The United States Attorney’s Office, in partnership with San Diego Unified School District, has launched a law-related elementary school program aimed at giving fifth-grade students the tools to sharpen positive decision-making skills and resist pressures to join gangs, take drugs or partake in other harmful behaviors. The program is designed to teach kids that their decisions have consequences.

More than 30 volunteers from the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, including federal prosecutors and administrative staff, and the U.S. Coast Guard, are spending time in local classrooms, teaching a program called “Project LEAD” to 270 fifth graders in nine classes at five schools.   

The eight-week curriculum, which includes class discussion, short skits and small-group activities, is designed to help the children develop the skills to reject alcohol, drugs, gang membership, criminal activity, truancy, bigotry, bullying and other behaviors that have extremely negative consequences for youth.

The program also serves as an informal mentoring program where students are guided by volunteers with either government, administrative, community service, criminal justice, or military backgrounds, who encourage the students to reach high for their goals.  

“We can’t solve all of society’s problems by prosecuting and incarcerating people,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “The best way to stop crime is to prevent it. This is a program that gives children the tools they need to choose a positive path for a productive, happy life. These fifth-graders will be our leaders in 20 years. There is no greater investment our society can make.”

The participating elementary schools for the inaugural launch of this U.S. Attorney-administered program are Valencia Park, Johnson, Emerson-Bandini, Logan and St. Rita’s.

The program is patterned after the original 20-week Project LEAD that goes back to 1993 – and is a collaboration between the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the Constitutional Rights Foundation.  Project LEAD is taught in 46 Los Angeles elementary schools and has become a national model. 

Project LEAD arrived in San Diego in 2012 at the urging of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel.  While a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles from 2002-2006, Judge Curiel was a volunteer for Project LEAD in Los Angeles.

After his appointment to the San Diego Superior Court, he encouraged the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and La Raza Lawyers Association in San Diego to sponsor classrooms at Laura Rodriguez Elementary and Johnson Elementary schools.

Judge Curiel has supported LEAD since 2002 because it offers positive role models to children who may not have any and helps them avoid bad choices such as using drugs, joining gangs and skipping school.  “This program shows kids they can be anything they want to be – a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, an architect - anything.”

This year, U.S. Attorney Duffy sought to create a federal version of Project LEAD and expand the number of children participating in San Diego by dispatching teams of volunteers to five elementary schools in an effort to replicate the successes of Los Angeles. Duffy credited San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten, the principals of the five elementary schools and a team of over 30 enthusiastic volunteers with making the program possible.  

This implementation of Project LEAD in San Diego is a collaboration between the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the San Diego Unified School system and the San Diego Commission of Gang Intervention and Prevention which adopted this prevention program in July 2016.   

Duffy hopes to expand the program to additional school next fall.

Since 2013, President Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder have stressed that federal law enforcement entities should make a stronger commitment to prevention and reentry efforts, in addition to the more traditional role of law enforcement through the various facets of the “Smart on Crime” initiatives.  Prevention, one of the tenants of Smart on Crime, is the main goal for Project LEAD.

For more information, contact:

Assistant U. S. Attorney Marietta I. Geckos (619) 546-6952

Rosa Vazquez, Guidance Counselor at Logan Elementary School.  619-344-6500 x3055

Mike Candelario, Counselor at Valencia Park Elementary School.  619-344-3500 x 3557

Rev. Rickey Laster, Executive Director of the City of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and  Intervention.  619-533-4873.  

Lt. Timothy Nicolet, United States Coast Guard Public Affairs. 619-278-7020

Jennifer Rodriguez, San Diego Unified School District – Public Affairs – 619-725-5598

Kerry Bigornia, Public Affairs Division Chief, Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, 213-257-2966









Updated October 24, 2016

Community Outreach
Press Release Number: CAS16-1024-Geckos