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Preventing youth violence, crime and gang involvement

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Heather Metcalf

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 12:00 am

During the past 13 weeks, sixth-graders from Leroy Nichols, Beckman, and Woodbridge elementary schools have participated in a program designed to help improve and change their lives for the better.

GREAT stands for Gang Resistance Education and Training. It was designed by teachers, parents, law enforcement and community leaders and has been in existence since 1991 where it began in Phoenix. Training for peace officers and the cost of student workbooks are paid for by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.

GREAT is taught to about 450,000 students each year in the U.S., two U.S. territories and several foreign countries. It is a research-based program that is continually evaluated and updated.

The program's goals are to help students avoid gang membership, prevent violence and criminal activity, and develop positive relationships with law enforcement. Students learn the truth about gangs and violence, their roles in their families, schools and communities, goal-setting tips, how to make GREAT decisions, communication skills, empathy for others, responding to peer pressure, anger management and how to resolve conflicts.

During this program, they have the opportunity to participate in activities such as role-playing, small-group work, brainstorming and large-group discussion. They are given handbooks as a creative outlet and as a place to express their thoughts and feelings. Students are provided T-shirts funded by their school's PTA or a civic group to show pride in their program. They wear the T-shirts during each 50-minute weekly lesson and keep their T-shirts at the end of the program.

Through these activities, they learn the skills and behaviors that make it easier to resist and avoid negative influences in their lives.

Every student also participated in a project called "Making My School a GREAT Place." Students were given the opportunity to complete and present a project that helped improve their school and/or community.

To date, schools that have participated in the GREAT program include Beckman, Lakewood, Lawrence, Nichols, Erma B. Reese, and Woodbridge elementary schools.

GREAT is taught at some of the schools in Lodi at the sixth grade level. I say some because in the past, every school that requested the program in a particular school year received it.

This 2011-12 school year will be different because the popularity and overall knowledge of GREAT has grown tremendously. This school year, the Lodi Unified School District will decide which schools get the program. It is my hope that the schools will be on a rotation so all who wish to receive GREAT would have the program at least every other year. Each school equally deserves the program and, unfortunately, there is not one school with children who are not affected by gangs, drugs, violence or crime at some level.

This is the reality facing schools today, but thankfully there are still many things we can do together as educators, parents and law enforcement to protect our children's safety, health, innocence and quality of life.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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