Participating Parkrose Middle School G.R.E.A.T. students get pizza and prize

See how this program, taught by cops in uniform, gives kids the skills they need to avoid getting into tobacco, drugs, and gangs‚

Two of the many students giving a presentation about how they learned to avoid tobacco, drugs, and gangs through the Parkrose Middle School G.R.E.A.T. program were Mickenin Sprague and Michelle Pham.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
We all know Parkrose has many “great” students. But, not long ago, an entire auditorium full of Parkrose Middle School students was honored as being “G.R.E.A.T.” students.

“The objective of the Gang Resistance Education And Training program,” explained coordinator and Portland Police Bureau Officer Michael Paresa, “is giving students life skills that help immunize them against youth violence, delinquency, and gang involvement.”

Paresa added, “The program also works as an effective bridge between police and the community’s youth, allowing relationships to be forged that extend outward from the school into your own neighborhood.”

Aimed at middle school students
“Trained, uniformed police officers present the G.R.E.A.T. Program in middle school classrooms across Portland,” Paresa explained. “Officers present the 13 week program, using a wide range of activities, that result in the necessary life skills, a sense of competency, usefulness, and personal empowerment needed to avoid involvement in youth violence and criminal activity.”

Prizes and pizza party
It isn’t all teaching and learning. We were invited to the “graduation” at Parkrose Middle School. There, students — representing all of the school’s classes — presented skits, poems, readings, and posters, illustrating what they had learned.

Sergeant Larry Graham (far left) congratulates the GREAT program participants. Outstanding students from each class are shown holding a gift from the program — a boom-box music system.

After the student presentations, long time G.R.E.A.T. instructor, Sgt. Larry Graham, addressed the students and teachers.

“I appreciate the support we get from the Portland Police Bureau that operates this program. But most of all, I thank the staff at the school. You welcome us here year after year. You’re here to help us with your classes. You make this possible,” Graham said with gratitude.

Addressing the students, Graham added, “We didn’t tell you drugs and gangs are ‘bad’ ‚Äì you came to that decision on your own. We gave you skills: how to say no, how to make decision, how to plan out life events. You will keep this up on your own. I thank you all for participating. No one is graduating this program without participating. You earned it.”

While all of the kids received a certificate of completion, top students in each class were given a boom-box music system.

Officer Michael Paresa, program coordinator, and Joann Alminiana, program administrator, dishing out pizza to 6th grade graduates of the G.R.E.A.T. program.

With their official certificate of graduation, a new philosophical outlook towards police in mind, and the tools needed to resist gang pressure, these 257 “GREAT” kids then enjoyed a pizza party.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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