Riverdale begins GREAT program

By Ed Brock

Riverdale Middle School student William Allen had a simple review of his first experience with the Gang Resistance Education and Training program.

"It makes me feel safe," 12-year-old Allen said.

Earlier this month 21 student resource officers that work in the county's schools received their certificate for completing 80 hours of training in the GREAT program. Riverdale police Sgt. Terry Hargett was among them.

On Monday Hargett and Riverdale Police Chief Thetus Knox kicked off the program that uses a 13-class curriculum in an attempt to change the mindset of students who may otherwise make some bad decisions.

They began with Church Street Elementary.

"You wouldn't believe the excitement of the kids," Hargett said.

Then on Tuesday they brought the program to Riverdale Middle.

"The kids are very excited about it," said Assistant Principal Tanya Leon-Thomas as she prepared for the lunch-time GREAT program.

In that part of the program the students ate lunch with the officers who came from the Riverdale and Clayton County police departments as well as some sheriff's deputies.

Before that the officers put on classroom presentations.

"We did a scenario with kids on a bus and they wouldn't let a kid sit down," Hargett said. "Then we talked about how they would feel if they were that kid."

They also talked about what the students should do if they saw some other students fighting. Some of them said they would try to break up the fight, but Hargett pointed out that if they did that a teacher might walk in and think they were all fighting.

"I said another recourse you might want to consider is going to an adult," Hargett said.

Knox said the students really interacted with the officers during those first classes and at Church Street.

"The young people were really interested," Knox said. "They went through the lessons and wanted to bring in their own experiences."

Clayton County Police Sgt. Scott Stubbs said he is still waiting on a meeting with county school authorities before initiating the program so they could know exactly how many books they would need.

"We're here to support Riverdale," Stubbs said.

The implementation of the program is a response to the rise in youth violence that has been ongoing in the county, Clayton County Assistant Police Chief Jeff Turner said previously.

Last year two high school students, 14-year-old Forest Park High School freshman Krystal Williams and 18-year-old Mundy's Mill High School Senior Larry Bishop, Jr. were killed in separate incidents.

For more information on the GREAT program go to www.great-online.org or call (800) 726-7070.