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GREAT program works to keep Lodi kids out of gangs

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Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:58 am, Thu Dec 6, 2012.

I spoke about my duties as a school resource officer and expressed how much I enjoyed the position in a column earlier this year. I've continued as an SRO for the Lodi Unified School District, but have added the additional responsibility of becoming a GREAT instructor.

What is GREAT? It stands for "Gang Resistance Education And Training." It is a school-based gang intervention program that combines classroom instruction with various learning activities to help students stay out of gangs. The course lasts 13 weeks.

As part of becoming a GREAT instructor, I attended an intensive two-week course that showed me how to effectively teach middle school students. The course and the costs associated with the instruction were paid for by the federal government.

There are several advantages of utilizing police officers as instructors. As a police officer, I have a wide range of experience in dealing with criminal behavior, and I have training in gang recognition. In addition, GREAT is a chance for me and my fellow SROs to serve as positive role models for our students. They see the officers from a different perspective and get to know them a lot better than they would any other way.

The primary objective of the GREAT program is to steer kids away from delinquency, gang membership and youth violence. This goal is accomplished by using a skills-based approach that addresses three domains of learning: cognitive, behavioral and effective. Students are taught life skills through cooperative learning, role playing and discussions. They rehearse these skills with the hope they will use them in real-life situations.

The GREAT program was developed in 1991 by the Phoenix Police Department, local educators and community leaders. It was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Over the years, the program has been evaluated and reviewed, and subsequently enhanced with the assistance of many teachers and law enforcement officers.

For 13 weeks, I teach our students life skills ranging from goal setting, anger management and social responsibility to recognizing peer pressure, refusal skills and conflict resolution. We often have discussions that lead to questions that a police officer would not normally encounter while working as a patrol officer.

That is the most enjoyable part of the program — breaking down the wall that usually separates at-risk youths from law enforcement officers. GREAT is a chance for students to interact with us in a positive fashion. The students want to hear our stories, ask questions about things they see on police television shows, and check out our equipment.

Finally, it's gratifying to see our students participating in a traditional graduation at the end of the program. There is a formal ceremony where the students receive a certificate in front of parents, relatives, school officials and law enforcement representatives. GREAT is a worthwhile program that provides relevant and important training for the kids of today. In addition, it creates a bond between the police officers who teach the course and their students. We hope to see our GREAT students doing positive things with their lives. And it gives us a great deal of satisfaction to think that, for just a moment, maybe we made a difference in a child's life.

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