For years, student resource officers in the Smyrna School District and surrounding schools have taught students the importance of drug resistance through D.A.R.E. (Drug Alcohol Resistance Education).
Students in the district and Providence Creek Academy were introduced to a new, broader program this year: G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training).
Two of the Smyrna School District's SROs are teaching the class. Smyrna Police Officer Jessica Jacobs Weller is teaching it at Smyrna Middle School and John Bassett Moore Intermediate School. Clayton Police Officer Bruce Graham is teaching it at Clayton Intermediate and Providence Creek Academy.
The third SRO is Smyrna Police Officer Evans Leighty, who works out of Smyrna High School.
Graham said the D.A.R.E. program has been around since 1983 while G.R.E.A.T. has only been active for a few years.
"The D.A.R.E. program is a good program but it's getting outdated," Graham said via email. "G.R.E.A.T. deals more with the problems that we see on a daily basis with youths today. G.R.E.A.T. tries to teach today's youth to make better decisions before they make a wrong decision and become involved in illegal activity."
He said the lessons in the program teach students how to identify the relationship among crime, tolerance, drug abuse and gangs.
Weller said G.R.E.A.T. is better suited for the classroom because it teaches students more about life lessons such as anger management and refusal techniques. She said it helps build the confidence levels of the children in making tough decisions. An example she uses in the classroom is getting into college and how the actions of students now impacts the rest of their lives.
Weller previously taught the G.R.E.A.T. program while she was a temporary SRO at Chipman Middle School.
"I like the G.R.E.A.T. program first of all because it helps form a better relationship between students and police officers. They get to work with us rather than typically only seeing us on the street. It teaches about real world situations," Weller said. "I enjoy this part of the job because it allows me to work with children."
The program is 13 weeks in total, weather permitting.
Weller teaches the class to both eighth and sixth grade classes for a total of 11 classes. Graham just completed a program with five sixth grade classes at CIS and is about to start working with another four classes at the school. He also taught three sixth grade classes at PCA. He's about to start teaching fourth graders at PCA.
Graham said the elementary level program will take six weeks with lessons geared toward the fourth grade age group.
To graduate from the program, Weller said the students have to complete the class on time, complete a project and they can't get arrested while in the class.
Both Weller and Graham said the class is going well so far.
"The program seems to be going over really well with the students. The students are active with the lessons and seem to enjoy the program," Graham said. "The G.R.E.A.T. program is used as a stepping stone against delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership for children in the years immediately before the prime ages for violence and delinquent behavior. The program encourages positive relationships among the community, parents, schools, and the law enforcement community."