The Madera Police Department was recently awarded an $88,000 CalGrip grant to target students most likely to join gangs. The money is distributed through the California Emergency Management Agency and it provides funds to California cities for the implementation of proven and promising prevention, intervention and suppression strategies.
Madera Police are using the money to implement the G.R.E.A.T. program, a school-based, law enforcement officer - instructed classroom curriculum.
School isn't out for summer at Madera Unified just yet, but a group of 4th graders at Pershing Elementary are already graduating.
"Good Decisions? Good outcomes. Bad decisions? Bad outcomes," chanted the class when prompted by an officer.
The class is among 1,200 students in the district to complete the six week intensive course, which stands for gang resistance education and training.
Once a week, officers with the visit classrooms like the one at Pershing to teach kids about smart decision making, how to deal with bullies and why gangs are bad.
"I think it's a wonderful program. It's really important for young people to make decisions before they're confronted with peer pressure or a critical situation," said Principal Andy Beakes.
Regional Training Centers provide training to sworn/certified criminal justice professionals to teach the G.R.E.A.T. curricula to elementary and middle school students throughout North and South America.
It launched four years ago at Madera Unified and is now taught in 17 elementary schools. This after research showed fourth and fifth graders are the most likely to be influenced by gangs and violent behavior.
"All the kids know right from wrong, but sometimes they need to see examples and sometimes they need to do activities which they do in the book," said Officer Durbin Lloren. "It teaches them what the outcome is going to be."
So far, the course has been well received.
"I liked that Mr. Lloren showed us many ways to communicate and not use bad language," said student Nicholette Marin.
"He's kind of funny," said another.
Through a series of games, puzzles and skits, the kids interact with the officers. The department said it's already seeing improvements in its relationship with area youth.
"In Madera Unified we've had very good success where kids I see that are now in 7th and 8th grade, when I talk to them, they'll say oh, officer Lloren I remember you from the G.R.E.A.T. program, so it's nice that I still have a connection with the kids from years ago, back when I first started," said Lloren.
A program designed to deliver the right education to keep kids from going the wrong direction.
"Gangs are a big problem in Madera and some start from an early age," said Lloren.