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By VINCE LUECKE
More than 200 Perry County sixth-graders are better prepared to deal with many of the challenges they’ll face in coming years, courtesy of a grant-funded program that for the second year sent police officers into their classrooms.
Tell City patrolmen Jason Shadwick and Derrick Lawalin teach the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program at Perry Central and William Tell elementary schools.
The two officers’ schedules were adjusted so they could have time in schools within their weekly schedules. Shadwick, who taught the first year at Perry Central while employed as a sheriff’s deputy, was later hired by the Tell City Police Department. Police Chief Greg Hendershot allowed him to resume his teaching in that role last fall. Lawalin instructs the class at William Tell.
Gang Resistance Education and Training, known by the abbreviation GREAT, has been offered since the 1990s. The 13-week program is designed to fight gang involvement, an issue that has been on educators’ radar screens for the past couple of years.
Students take part in role-playing and in-class discussion about real-life scenarios involving peer pressure, conflict resolution and making good decisions.
The program offers alternatives they can use when they face situations in which they could make the wrong choice, whether it’s about gang involvement, underage smoking or alcohol use or experimenting with narcotics.
Perry County Judge Lucy Goffinet was the guest speaker at Thursday’s graduation ceremony at William Tell. She urged the group of about 139 students to use the skills they learned to make good decisions and to “always be true to yourself.” Reflecting on her experiences in school, she told the group that in a generation they should be in leadership roles.
“I hope it will be you who will be here speaking,” Goffinet said. She encouraged GREAT grads to choose their friends carefully and to find new ones if they feel pressured to do things they know in their hearts are wrong.
During the ceremony, held in the gymnasium, students showcased the service projects they completed or will tackle in coming months as part of the program. They included cleaning Joe Schaeffer Park, conducting skits for fellow students about bullying, resisting peer pressure and respecting others. Another group made posters to promote school pride.
Along with the grant program and support from schools and the city of Tell City, the GREAT program is supported by the Tell City Knights of Columbus. A donation from Knights funded the purchase of T-shirts, each emblazoned with the Project GREAT logo.
As they were called forward to receive their diplomas, the young graduates shook hands with police officers, some of whom have served as guest speakers in classroom sessions.