By Joel Hall
Local law enforcement officials, and some from as far away as Savannah, celebrated the graduation of eight students, who successfully completed the Clayton County Teens Initiating Change (TIC) program. The program, which started June 11 and ended Friday, illustrated the importance of community, by showing students the ins and outs of county government and the local justice system.
The ceremony took place at the Clayton County Police Headquarters in Jonesboro, on Friday morning. The students receiving certificates were: Toni Hall, of Morrow Middle School; Michael McLamb, of Lovejoy High School; Miranda Reid, who will attend Morrow High School in the fall; Angelena Johnson, of North Clayton High School; Ciara McAfee, who will attend Morrow High School in the fall; Michela Hizine, of North Clayton High School; Chandler Summerville, of Elite Scholars Academy Charter School; and Allison Person, a Riverdale High School graduate, who will attend Brenau University in Gainesville in the fall.
Guest speakers included Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Andre Oliver, as well as Lamar Owens, Jr., a former quarterback at the United States Naval Academy, who is currently an assistant football coach at Georgia Tech. Both spoke on the importance of picking oneself up after setbacks.
After receiving their certificates, participants in the program shook hands with representatives of several top officers of the Clayton County Police Department, Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, and Clayton County Public Schools Safety Director John Walker.
Clayton Police Officer India Smith, founder of the TIC program, said that several area restaurants supplied lunch for the students over the course of the seven-week program, and that several community leaders spoke to them on various topics. She said the involvement of the community showed the students how their community is interrelated.
"Not too many people take the time to show kids how a community works, so through this program, they get to see all of that," Smith said. "I feel like they gained a lot of knowledge. They learned that if you steal a piece of candy, it's not just taking a piece of candy from the store ... they [now] know that there is a domino effect."
Over the seven weeks, the students learned a 33-lesson curriculum provided by the National Crime Prevention Council that covered the difference between felonies and misdemeanors, the difference between personal crime and property crime, the trouble associated with gangs, how to prevent teen-dating violence, how to conduct oneself when a police officers reports to the scene, and other topics.
Dr. Letitia Lewis, assistant principal at Riverdale Middle School, said that several of her students have learned leadership skills, creativity, and critical-thinking skills through the program. "What I like about it is that the teens are initiating," Lewis said. "So often, we leave them out of the formula for change, but that is kind of like ignoring the future. I think they gain a great sense of themselves [and] their connection to the community. This is an opportunity to prepare them to give back."
Ciara McAfee, 14, who signed up for the program following a career day event at her school, said it taught her about the responsibilities placed on public safety officials. "I didn't really care about police before I started this program," she said. "It's hard, and it takes a lot of effort, and it takes a lot of courage."