GREAT students rewarded in Centennial neighborhood

You’ll smile when you see these happy kids. And, you’ll learn why so many people consider this Portland Police program a very good thing …

Kids get excited as they see the Portland Police Bureau’s “GREAT” SUV pull up in front of their school, teachers say.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It’s been a while since we’ve attended the “graduation” of a GREAT class – a “Gang Resistance and Education And Training” class – presented by officers of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

  • See our 2007 story on a similar event, at Parkrose Middle School: CLICK HERE.

PPB’s Youth Services Division Officer – and the coordinator of their GREAT program – Mike Paresa met us outside Alder Elementary School, on a very wintery day – complete with snow on the ground – before the GREAT graduation that morning on January 18.

PPB Youth Services Division Officer Mike Paresa gives shirts to each GREAT class participant at Alder Elementary School.

“We’re celebrating three classes that’ve completed our elementary school program today,” Paresa smiled.

“In this six-week course, we’re primarily teaching students ‘life skills’ – such as good communication, anger management, no bullying, who to go to when you need help, and the ‘Golden Rule’.”

In addition to teaching and reinforcing these skills through role-playing, Paresa said, another important outcome is “building good relationships between police officers and the kids. When they see us in public, we hope they’ll feel comfortable stopping and saying, ‘Hi, Officer Mike!’”

PPB Traffic Division Officer Kristi Butcher gives GREAT shirts to her students.

His teaching partner at the school, PPB Traffic Division Officer Kristi Butcher, joined us, and added, “With so many influences on kids these days, this training gives them the ‘tools’ they need to make better decisions – like staying out of gangs, and away from drugs. It’s about making good decisions that may keep them stay out of jail in the future.”

Although it’s only about half the length of the 13-week curriculum, the elementary-level GREAT program makes a positive impact, said Alder Elementary’s principal, Paz Ramos. “This is a program that really opens up our kids’ eyes about what’s in the community, and how their choices will affect the rest of their lives. Even more, it shows them what it means become a good part of the community.”

Alder Elementary teachers Angela Riddle and Angel Gonzalez say they agree that the GREAT program provides genuine value in their classrooms.

After having the GREAT program in her fifth-grade classroom, teacher Angela Riddle said, “We see students use what they’ve learned in this, and our other social step learning programs, in the classroom and playground. It’s helped reduce fighting and increase harmony. For example, when there’s a conflict, they will try ‘rock-paper-scissors’ to solve it for themselves, instead of hitting each other.”

Officer Kristi Butcher presents to Zobe Bazan a “top of the class” award.

Josue Marquez gets his award from GREAT instructor Officer Kristi Butcher.

Another teacher, Angel Gonzalez, added, “The best part is getting the kids to talk with each other. They may not act out and follow [these trainings] all the time, but it helps them become more aware of good behavior.”

The “graduation” was brief – two students from each of three classes were awarded movie passes; all received a certificate of completion. The students got GREAT t-shirts – and were treated to an all-they-could-eat pizza buffet in the classroom.

“It’s fun to interact with the kids,” Paresa said, as he watched the kids gleefully dine on slices of pizza. “And, it’s rewarding to help them learn the value of respect for themselves – and others.”

Selena Sanchez and Annie Cha enjoy their GREAT pizza party.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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