A longstanding program in La Crosse will soon be discontinued. Congressional funding will end in 2016 for the G.R.E.A.T. program, taught by police officers to help middle school students learn valuable life skills. Fox 25/48’s Erin O’Brien explains what that means for students.
“What’s the number one reason kids join gangs? They feel left out.”
The kids are all ears today as Officer Brad Stoner teaches this sixth grade class at Logan Middle School about gangs through the G.R.E.A.T. program. G.R.E.A.T. stands for Gang Resistance Education and Training. The nationwide program has taught middle school students about violence prevention and bullying for 22 years. Funding from congress helps the police pay for officer training and workbooks for students. But that funding will end next year, and the program will face an uncertain future.
“Eventually there may be some agencies that will be able to hold on for a few years with materials they have left over, but eventually through attrition and through movement the program will probably just fade away.”
But the police say it’s still an important program for students.
“People don’t want to talk about gangs and congressional members don’t want to talk about gangs, but the reality is, if you talk to any police chief across this country they will tell you that gangs are still an issue, and we all know that bullying is still an issue, violence prevention needs to be there.”
And Officer Stoner says the G.R.E.A.T. program makes the kids see him and his role as a school resource officer as more than just a security guard, but also as an adult they can trust. But he wonders where the kids might learn these skills when the program ends.
You’re hoping they’re getting those same things at home, you’re hoping they’re getting them at the Boys and Girls Club, if they’re getting them there that would help as well. This seems to be much more structured and defined in how it’s approached beginning to end.”
The La Crosse police say they’ll finish this school year teaching G.R.E.A.T. in the classroom, and they’ll decide this summer whether they have the resources for one more year. In La Crosse, Erin O’Brien, Fox 25 48 News at 9.
The La Crosse police department is one of just four regional offices nationwide for the program. They oversee G.R.E.A.T. ‘ programs in sixteen states.