In addition to their regular studies, sixth-grade students at Beckman Elementary School in Lodi recently completed Gang Resistance Education and Training, a 13-week program taught by Lodi Police Officer Brannon Haro, who serves as a school resource officer.
“They all did a really good job with it, and at the end we came up with a service project that the students thought of and brought to our school,” said Briana Caluya, a sixth-grade teacher at Beckman.
The G.R.E.A.T. program not only teaches students how to avoid gangs, drugs, alcohol and other criminal activity, Haro said, it also requires them to organize and complete a community service project.
“They could have done a number of things to help out the community,” Haro said on Wednesday. “They decided on a canned food drive.”
Beginning Feb. 15, each sixth-grade class placed collection boxes in all of the school’s classrooms, Haro said, and encouraged their fellow students to bring in donations of canned food.
“When we were gathering up all the boxes yesterday, I was pretty impressed with all the cans they were able to collect,” Haro said on Wednesday. “They really went after it and got it done.”
Although she did not have an accurate count of how many cans the students collected, Caluya said they filled a large pallet to roughly two-thirds of its total capacity.
Viktoriah Valdez, 11, was proud that she and her fellow students were able to participate in a project to benefit members of her community.
“I wasn’t able to bring as much as I wanted, but I was able to bring in one can and one can do a lot if you do something with it,” Valdez said.
The cans were picked up by Bread of Life, Haro said, a Stockton-based nonprofit that took them to Ebenezer Congregational Church in Lodi that distributes food to those in need the third Saturday of every month.
“We wanted to make sure the food stayed local,” Haro said.
Although 11-year-old Leilani Adame did not have much experience volunteering before the food drive, she said she enjoyed participating in the project and plans to stay involved in community service as she continues her academic career.
“I’ve been told a lot that now that I’m in sixth-grade, it’ll help on our college applications, so I’m going to start volunteering here in Lodi,” Valdez said.
Sanitago Madrigal, 11, was also happy to have taken part in the food drive.
“I was glad that our school was able to do this project, and (I) thank everybody who helped out,” Madrigal said.
One of Madrigal’s peers, 11-year-old Caleb Pittman, enjoyed being able to give food to the hungry.
Pittman has participated in community service projects before, he said, and will do so again.
“I just like to help people in need,” Pittman said.
Madeline Hanft, 11, echoed Pittman’s sentiments.
“It was a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our school considering that us sixth-graders are leaving next year,” Hanft said. “I definitely want to do something like this again.”
Looking at a classroom filled with the students who organized the food drive, Haro couldn’t help but smile with pride at what they accomplished.
“We’re just glad to be able to help out some families in need in our community,” Haro said. “That’s what it’s all about.”