Temple Police ended its first session of the Gang Resistance Education and Training program at Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School on 12th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue earlier this month, making it the second school Temple Police has partnered with to connect with North Philadelphia’s youth.
G.R.E.A.T. is a national program sponsored by the United States Department of Justice that forms relationships between police departments and schools. Police officers intervene in the lives of children living in areas at risk of criminal behavior to educate them on life skills.
“It’s about inspiring our youth to do better,” said TUPD Community Relations Officer Leroy Wimberly. “We try to give them guidance in certain areas that they lack, and with us, we’re there to keep them in line and focused on the big picture. It’s like a rush. We have them participating in ways that they never knew.”
Wimberly and Gloria West, another community relations officer, lead the program for TUPD. West has worked with multiple grade levels at St. Malachy Catholic School on 11th Street near Thompson for the last two years, while Wimberly just completed his first session with an eighth grade class at Dunbar. They each lead weekly classes at these schools.
In 2012, about 40 percent of the city’s murder victims were 24 years old or younger, according to Philadelphia’s Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence, which was created under former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration. Temple and Dunbar are located within the 22nd Police District, which has some of the highest rates of crime and poverty in the city, according to police data.
West and Wimberly lead exercises that include reenacting scenarios where students may be tempted to behave negatively so they can be better prepared to respond in real situations.
“When I initially started working with the children in the community, there was some resistance at first,” West said. “But because the program teaches them how to make better decisions in their lives, I found the children began to understand the program and enjoyed being in the classroom.”
The G.R.E.A.T. program’s curriculum focuses on conflict resolution, anger management, positive decision-making and empathy skills.
Tim Adkins, a counselor at Dunbar, said the risks children in North Philadelphia face are unprecedented.
“There are a lot of threats that our students are confronted with,” Adkins said. “The most serious and the most emergent being the violence that’s in the neighborhood. There’s a lot of conflict between young people, and the way that they handle conflicts is generally with aggression.”
“Teachers are set to a certain curriculum: science, math, English,” Wimberly said. “But we’re outside of that because we bring realistic experiences. Gangs are prevalent, especially at that age group. They are really vulnerable.”
Kevin Wimberly, the climate manager at Dunbar, ensures a safe learning environment for students and said having TUPD officers involved at Dunbar is an effective way for teachers to be aware of what children may be experiencing in their homes.
“I was able to observe the students develop leadership skills with him,” said Mindy Fisher, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Dunbar, whose class underwent the G.R.E.A.T. program with Leroy Wimberly. “It was really nice to see them have a positive relationship with someone in a role such as a police officer.”
When conflicts arose between students after the completion of the G.R.E.A.T. program, Chris Wasnick, a technology teacher at Dunbar, said he noticed they were utilizing the resolution skills they were taught.
“I think it was a successful start,” Dunbar’s Principal Dawn Moore said. “The kids really enjoyed it, they had a graduation and the opportunity to build relationships between the police at Temple and our school.”
TUPD’s External Relations Coordinator Monica Hankins-Padilla said determining the success of the program is difficult at this point.
“Our department is considering how we can measure our effects on the community,” Hankins-Padilla said. “We would love to be able to follow the children we make contact with up to high school.”
In February, Leroy Wimberly will return to Dunbar to lead a fourth grade class through the G.R.E.A.T. program. West will continue teaching at St. Malachy.
“At the graduation at Dunbar one of the kids came up to me, and he said, ‘Officer Wimberly, if I had a dad I would want him to be just like you,’” Leroy Wimberly said. “And that’s how I knew I at least touched one.”