Students at the White Street School in Springfield graduated from a special class Wednesday.
In 2009, the Springfield Police Department partnered with an international program called G.R.E.A.T. which stands for Gang Resistance Education & Training. The program is meant to give children tools to avoid conflict and violent behavior.
Police have been to about 20 elementary schools in the Springfield area and chose the White Street School because they have noticed a rise in gang activity in the area.
Officers attend a free class sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Springfield police officer Marty Curley said they are reinforcing ideas children are already being taught in school. He said it is also important for children to have a personal and positive experience with police officers.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he has attended all of the graduations of the six-week course. He said it is important for children to have the right mental skills and decision-making process when it comes to gangs and violence. During his speech he told the 5th graders, gang life lands people in one of three places, jail, the hospital or a graveyard.
School Principal Kristen Hughes said she jumped at the chance when the police department approached her with the idea.
Officer Curley said being a part of the program was a rewarding experience. He said he has spoken to students who have been a part of the program in the past. Most of them said the program has been a benefit for them.
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