By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
Bridging the gap between public misconceptions about police officers and the reality of what’s behind the uniform can be a daunting task. But, a growing program at Madison County middle schools is helping break down those barriers.
Last week, 291 sixth-graders graduated from the Gang Resistance Education and Training program. Despite its title, RPD School Resource Officer Josh Hale said the curriculum encompasses a lot more than just gang prevention.
Started in the Midwest during the 1990s, GREAT’s 13 lessons cover a wide-range of topics, including anger management, anti-violence, decision-making, positive versus negative influences and refusal skills.
The program also teaches middle-schoolers how to know the difference between realistic and unrealistic goals, and how to set them to achieve success.
One part of the curriculum, anti-bullying, gets the most interest, Hale said.
“They really latch onto the lessons about bullying,” Hale said.
Hale and RPD School Resource Officer Whitney Maupin teach GREAT at the five city middle schools. Maupin also presents a shorter curriculum to a group of fifth-graders.
One of the main goals of the program is to build relationships between police officers and the children.
“It encompasses so much,” Hale said. “It gives us a chance to know these kids on a different level.”
By teaching the GREAT program, Hale said the middle-schoolers view the officers as more approachable.
“They want to tell their stories,” Hale said. “We hope we’ve made enough of an impression that it will help them in the future.”
Hale said the children want to know what it’s like to be on the force, and by teaching GREAT, the students learn that officers are human and have a life outside of work.
In order to graduate from GREAT, each student must complete a final project on a topic that will help make their community or school a better place. Some of the topics have included bullying, graffiti prevention, violence and littering.
The students have used posters, Power Point software and websites to present their final projects, and they are graded by their teachers, Hale said.
The program has been in Madison County Schools for four years and has shown incredible growth. The first year, 25 children graduated. This year, 291 children participated in a ceremony last week at Madison Middle School where they received a certificate of completion and a T-shirt.
The participants also were treated to cake and ice cream after the ceremony.
Maupin and Hale run a summer camp program with Madison County children ages 11 to 14, and they often select graduates of the GREAT program to participate. Last year they had about 50 campers, plus some junior counselors.
Hale said the middle school teachers love the program and welcome the officers into the classroom.
“It’s a good way to close the gap between the public and police,” Hale said.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6694.