G.R.E.A.T. program positive for students

Mar. 18, 2014 @ 04:13 AM

Something G.R.E.A.T. is going on for fifth-grade students.

This year fifth-grade classes in Rutherford County Schools (RCS) and at Lake Lure Classical Academy were introduced to the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program.

"G.R.E.A.T. provides character and life skills education that prepares students to face difficult situations and make good choices," Steven Helton, director of elementary education for RCS, said. "We are fortunate to have the program in our schools and are excited about the opportunities it offers our students to develop positive relationships with law enforcement."

The goal is to prevent youth violence while developing positive relationships between criminal justice professionals and youth during their early development years. It is a gang and violence prevention program built around school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curriculum.

Sheriff Chris Francis decided to implement the program and said the response from parents, teachers and students has been positive.

"I think it's been successful." Francis said. "It's definitely for the future of our county and the future of our children to help them to be positive citizens and to learn how to cope with a lot of the peer pressures and the negatives they have to deal with at their age level."

The six-week curriculum is being taught by sheriff's deputies Robert Martin and Eric Hester, referred to as G.R.E.A.T. officers. The deputies traveled to Atlanta in July to receive educational training and have been teaching and holding G.R.E.A.T. graduations during both semesters.

"I felt like that was my calling," Martin said. "I think back to my D.A.R.E. teacher and I was touched at that age. That's what I wanted to do, I like working around kids."

The curriculum for the program consists of 30 to 45 minute lessons designed to be taught in sequence. Lessons include "To Do or Not to Do," where students demonstrate decision-making sills and identify who they can talk to if they need help making decisions and "Staying Cool When the Heat Is On," where they practice controlling anger.

"It's more about life skills in general. We talk about how to deal with bullying and there's something different every lesson," Hester said. "And through every lesson we are teaching them about respect. We are teaching them about how they've got to respect themselves before they can respect each other and then how to respect each other through differences."

"They talk about how to communicate with people, how to control their anger and give them a lot of life skills and life lessons," Francis said. "I understand how important it is for children to learn lessons that help them in school but I think the life skills in the G.R.E.A.T. class are just as important for their future."

Hester said the program is also breaking down barriers between the students and law enforcement.

"My favorite part is just seeing the difference and being able to spend time with the kids in the schools. I didn't realize, being in law enforcement for 22 years, how much our young children need to see those positive influences," Hester said. "They are learning we are not the bad guy, we are their friend. We are there to protect them and help them and we're like their buddy when we are there in the class."

Once the students complete the curriculum, they go through a graduation and receive a certificate and a T-shirt.

"This program is one that helps students deal with peer pressure and bullying in a positive manner," said Bill Bass, principal of Ellenboro Elementary School where students recently participated in the G.R.E.A.T. graduation. "Officer Martin has done a wonderful job interacting with our fifth-grade students."

Francis said he is encouraged by all of the positive feedback from the program and hopes to continue with it and implement it in the middle schools in the future.

"I can't say enough how much I appreciate the cooperation between the Rutherford County School system and Lake Lure Classical Academy. It would not be successful if they did not allow us this partnership to work with them and to utilize their classrooms and students," Francis said. "It's a very positive experience all the way around."