02/24/11 — School program teaches youths life skills they need

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School program teaches youths life skills they need

By Gary Popp
Published in News on February 24, 2011 1:46 PM

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Dinnel Condeno and Ebony Littrice participate in a role play activity during the G.R.E.A.T. program's first-ever class held at Meadow Lane Elementary.

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Goldsboro police Cpl. Robbie Jones teaches a G.R.E.A.T., Gang Resistance Education and Training, course to Donna Waller's fourth-grade class at Meadow Lane Elementary. The program replaces the D.A.R.E. program.

The Goldsboro police kicked off a new program this week in the classrooms of Wayne County Schools designed to teach 9- to 13-year-old students how to make positive life choices.

The program, G.R.E.A.T., Gang Resistance Education And Training, is replacing D.A.R.E., Drug Abuse Resistance Education, which had been part of the school district's curriculum for 16 years and was taught by recently retired Cpl. William Thomas. Thomas handed the reins over to Cpl. Robbie Jones and Cpl. Ronald McDuffie.

Jones is expecting the early lessons, which are being taught in Dillard Middle and Meadow Lane Elementary, to serve as a learning curve that will show how the new program might evolve.

"I really hope to see the program grow," Jones said. "I want to see the kids get something out of the class."

While the transition from D.A.R.E. to G.R.E.A.T. will put more concentration on gang education and less on drug resistance, the overall message will remain the same.

"Although we talk about gangs, it is not 100 percent about gangs, it actually teaches life skills and conflict resolution," Jones said. "The most in-depth we get about gangs is about killing the myth."

Jones said one of the message he wants to impress upon the students is the truth about gangs.

"We define gangs as a group of people that dress and act alike, but the key characteristic is that they are also involved in criminal activity," Jones said. "We try to tell them the real deal."

G.R.E.A.T. students also will hear from the police officers about the effects of peer pressure, bullying and drug use.

"We teach kids about handling difficult situations, like if you are being bullied or if you are bullying someone and not realizing it," Jones said.

The program is available to fourth- through seventh-grade students.

The first class to take part in the program was Donna Waller's fourth-grade class at Meadow Lane Tuesday morning.

"The students received the lesson very well. The were excited about the program, and it was great information for them," Ms. Waller said.

She said having police officers come into the classroom in their full uniforms has a special effect.

"It makes it real to them to see the officers come in and talk about gangs and bullying. I think it will help them to learn how to deal with different situations," she said.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students will receive a six-week lesson, while the sixth- and seventh-graders are taught a 13-week lesson, Jones said. All the classes last 30 minutes and take place once a week.

Jones said the course is a very structured and includes a lot of role playing.

"At the beginning of class, we often have four to seven students participate in role playing where they may be involved in illegal activity. Then we will discuss the choices the students had and the decisions that were made and what could have been done differently, and how to avoid certain situations."

Similar to how an athlete may practice for game-day scenarios, Jones and McDuffie put the students in practice situations that mimic actual situations they might find themselves in.

"By putting the children in these situations, it teaches them how to get out of situations -- like if your friends want to smoke cigarettes and you don't want to. It gives them an out," McDuffie said. "It provides them a mechanism to use to avoid situations than can led to downfalls."

Jones said the goal is to present the program to at least 14 different groups of children each week.

"We are going to try to get into most schools, but we won't get into all of them. Some of the kids won't have it because we just don't have the manpower," Jones said.

As the program progresses, the school district expects G.R.E.A.T. to be offered in most city schools, including Carver Heights Elementary, Dillard Middle, Greenwood Middle, Meadow Lane Elementary, North Drive Elementary and School Street Elementary.

Jones said he would most like to enter the classrooms where a high proportion of the children come from Goldsboro's housing communities, but that children from all over the city can benefit.

"I don't care if you are living in the richest part of town, if you don't have a mother and father living there, you are missing something," he said. "I am really anxious to reach those kids. I believe they will relate to what I am talking about a whole lot more than other kids on some topics."

McDuffie also sees the importance of going into schools where a higher percentage of the kids come from less fortunate homes.

"Coming up in certain environments, you don't get certain life skills that other kids get, and being able to give that to them by doing this program is only going to help them in the long run," he said.

While the G.R.E.A.T. program is in its infancy, Jones and McDuffie have high expectations.

"I want to see the results," Jones said. "I want the skills they learn to stay with them into high school."