Ask the Superintendent: GREAT Officers help with curriculum, more

Jun. 10, 2013 @ 12:33 PM

The last few weeks have been special for all of us in Durham Public Schools, as we have seen the Class of 2013 take their brave steps into a new world. As a superintendent and a parent watching his son graduate from Hillside High School on Friday morning, my pride in our schools and commitment to improving them felt twice as strong. On behalf of our teachers, support staff and administrators, thank you for entrusting your children to us.
Q: What do GREAT Officers do in our schools? Are they like School Resource Officers? How are they funded?
A: Our students and school communities are blessed to be supported by our partners in city and county law enforcement. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies have become part of the school family. Safety and security are crucial, but GREAT officers do so much more. They serve in roles designed to foster a supportive atmosphere that bestows on our students a sense of trust and personal responsibility. All of our law enforcement partners recognize this duty to our community, and we are proud to work with them.
GREAT is a school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed, classroom curriculum developed by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of its comprehensive anti-gang initiative. GREAT stands for Gang Resistance Education and Training, and it is all about reaching our young boys and girls before they reach the age when they are vulnerable to being drawn into gang activity.
GREAT Officers are officers and deputies who teach the curriculum to our students, working full time in our middle schools and rotating in our elementary schools. They teach life skills that help children learn to avoid gangs and violent behavior.
The program works. A multi-year national study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice showed that GREAT students had lower rates of gang membership, less risk-seeking behavior, more positive attitudes toward police, and higher levels of altruism.
The GREAT Officers in our schools do more than teach the curriculum, however. They frequently partner with our School Resource Officers, and like our SROs, they stay involved after the school bell rings and throughout the year. Some coach athletics. They work with youth in GREAT summer camps. They are role models, sympathetic ears, and consultants to our teachers and principals.
Funding for GREAT Officers is provided by the city and county through the Durham Police Department and the Durham County Sheriff’s Department. We are very grateful for these valued members of our school communities.
Q: How much should my child read over the summer to prepare for next year?
A: As much as possible!
According to the children’s literacy organization Reading is Fundamental (RIF), experts believe that “children who read during the summer gain reading skills, while those who do not often slide backward.” Teachers sometimes have to spend a month or more re-teaching material that has been forgotten over the summer. Summer reading helps keep our students’ minds fresh and engaged.
My challenge to parents is this: encourage your child to read at least four books this summer. Check with your school’s librarian to find out what special summer programs are happening. For example, the Books on Break Durham partnership between DPS and Book Harvest provided ten books each for more than 1,000 students at Glenn and Forest View elementary schools. Our friends at the Durham County Library are also sponsoring a summer reading program, with the kickoff at Northgate Mall Saturday, June 15.
But the most important thing you can do as a parent is be a reader yourself. Share -- or rekindle -- your love of books, let your child know that you enjoy reading, and then go together to the library. Some of your child’s summer adventures will be found in the pages of books, and having those adventures will prepare him or her to hit the ground running next year.
Dr. Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. He answers readers’ questions in his column the second Tuesday of each month. Submit your questions to