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Helping Students Become GREAT Citizens

Middle schoolers finished a police program that teaches them how to contribute to their community.

Acting sketches, reciting rap verses, smiles, laughs and lessons learned were all prominently featured Thursday at the Gang Resistance and Training (GREAT) program graduation on the campus.

Officers from the awarded 7th graders with a certificate for completing the three-month program in which students learned weekly lessons about ways to improve their community.

Groups of students also gave presentations to their peers in order to demonstrate the lessons they learned over the course of program.

Some groups acted out how to properly intervene when bullying takes place at school, while others shared posters they drew that promoted positive programs such as recycling, and another group rapped lyrics they wrote about the benefits of avoiding drugs.

And one group promoted carrying out random acts of kindness, as they resolved to write positive messages on flyers and hang them on all the lockers in the school's gymnasium.

Police Corporal Anthony Pinell, who taught the GREAT curriculum, said that allowing students to creatively express the lessons they learned served as a good indicator that the program is effective.

"This shows the kids understand," said Pinell.

Pinell would frequently ask groups that finished presenting to tie the message of their demonstration to a lesson that students learned in the program.

Over the course of the weekly program that is taught by officers in a classroom, students learned ways to stop bullying or avoid peer pressure, anger management techniques, communication methods and a variety of other lessons.

"These are skills that can help you make it through life safely," said Pinell.

And teacher Erica Odencrans said that the lessons are already beginning to pay dividends in the classroom.

She said that she has seen her students become more aware of bullying over the recent months, which she attributed the time they spent in the GREAT class.

Most importantly perhaps, Odencrans said that her students like participating in the program.

"They seem to really enjoy it, and they are learning a lot," she said.

The enthusiasm students have for the program is evident by the way they cheered on their peers after each performance, or when they went to receive their graduation certificate.

Hoots, hollers and rounds of applause were plentiful throughout the classroom as each students' name was read by Pinell to come before the class and shake the hand of a police officer before accepting their reward.

Pinell encouraged students to keep in touch with him after the program ends and say hello when they saw him on patrol.

He told students that he hoped they would take the lessons learned in the program and incorporate them into their daily routine.

"I want you to be leaders for the rest of your community," he said.

And 7th grader Gabriel Mahuinga plans to do exactly that.

He said that the GREAT lessons taught him the importance of staying free from the gangs that he saw his friends and family become affiliated with.

"It was a really good program," he said.

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