WINNSBORO — Sgt. Steve McDonald and Cpl. Rick Gibson recently attended Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) classes to prepare themselves to teach the curriculum to elementary and middle school students in Fairfield County.
The two school resource officers went to training Aug. 26 through Aug. 30 at the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia, which is under the U.S. Department of Justice. Gibson and McDonald learned from national G.R.E.A.T. instructors who teach the same program across the nation.
The G.R.E.A.T. Program is a school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curriculum. The program’s primary objective is prevention and is intended as an immunization against delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership. G.R.E.A.T. lessons focus on providing life skills to students to help them avoid delinquent behavior and violence to solve problems.
McDonald said the biggest lesson he learned during his time in training was that the earlier you can teach prevention, the better.
“Every kid is unique and every child has a right to be taught skills that will help them in making G.R.E.A.T. decisions by staying away from violence, gangs, drugs or any negative activity,” he noted.
After viewing drugs and violence in schools, McDonald believes that young people in Fairfield County try to emulate gangs and gang activity.
“Gang behavior is being glorified in the media and we see have even seen it at the elementary school level and in the public,” he said.
If a resident views any gang activity, McDonald advises them to either call the sheriff’s office at 803-635-4141 or call the new Safe Schools Tip Line at 803-635-7195.
As part of the district’s ongoing efforts to maintain safe and effective learning environments for all students, the tip line provides students and parents with an anonymous way to report unsafe situations. The tip line allows students and parents to report weapons, threats of violence, bullying, gang activity, harassment, suicide, drug involvement, and activity that could potentially endanger students, staff or property.
McDonald said the best part about the tip line is that a resident can leave information anonymously. Once a tip has been received, School Resource Officers will react accordingly.
Fairfield County has not been over run with gang activity, but McDonald believes the community has approached a time where action is needed.
“It is always better to prevent the problem rather than to solve the problem,” he noted. “Gang prevention is the best way to go because gang intervention is a much more difficult task.”
McDonald is pleased that the community has asked for forums on violence and gangs. Those requests have come from parents, teacher and public officials.
“Gang activity is a part of bigger problem,” McDonald stated. “Bullying is the big problem, but gangs will come along with violence as well. I’m proud to see our community stepping up and asking for prevention information because the more involved the community is, the less likely a gang trend will be established.”
Now that McDonald and Gibson are certified to teach the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum, those public requests will be fulfilled.
On Oct. 3, the Town of Ridgeway and the Community Actions Committee will present a Gang Violence and Prevention Awareness forum at 6 p.m. at the Century House. Following that presentation, McDonald and Gibson will begin teaching the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum at Geiger Elementary School on Oct. 4.
It will be a six-week program, and in the future there are plans to teach the curriculum at every elementary school in the district and to the middle school as well.
“This was all prompted from the need of gang awareness,” McDonald said. “It is gang prevention and teaching kids how to make good decisions. I want people to know is that this is not gang awareness, but it is prevention. And really it is a decision making program. The G.R.E.A.T. mission statement is building safer communities one child at a time.”