Edwin Markham Middle School sits directly at the intersection of several gang territories. In March of 2013, we hosted "Watts United," a weekend retreat with the four housing developments in Watts that have been rivals for over 50 years to try to get to the core of the issues that these communities and youth faced. At this retreat, we discovered the disheartening reality that almost every kid and their families were frightened of Markham. Students expressed their fear of simply walking to and from school, and the parents of younger kids were doing everything in their power to enroll their kids into other schools. In addition to the existing challenges of being an underresourced school, the environment created when mixing kids and gangs from different developments led to an impossible learning situation.
This retreat exposed an opportunity to bring our existing retreat programs to the campus of Markham during the summer break to help maintain our connection to students, but more importantly to offer programming in their local community.