While beginning my series on tough love, I had to include the boot camp option as one of the resources. So, what you’ll see in the next few weeks is an intermingling of tough love strategies, followed by outside interventions. The following has been previously published, but I felt it necessary as an introduction to one of the options: The boot camp. The boot camp is a unique partnership between school, juvenile court and law enforcement, something rare indeed. I want to begin with the role of the law enforcement officer, specifically the School Resource Officer, or SRO.
When parenting becomes difficult in the teen years and you find yourself in need of taking more drastic measures, be glad that you live in Walton County where the 21st Century Boot Camp is in session four nights a week and intermittently throughout the year on Saturday mornings. As I said, I work in the boot camp program currently and have worked in intervention for over 15 years, nearly my whole career. Intervention is the step that you take to “prevent” or “intervene” before things get out of hand. But the boot camp, while providing intervention, provides another step to intervention: deterrence.
The boot camp program has a multifaceted purpose. The first purpose is to provide deterrence through military style physical training that breaks down the barriers that traditional methods have not been successful in doing. Then, the intervention is applied through one on one counseling, tutoring and life skills training. Some of our kids come to us for having been unruly at home or at school but many are from the court system and might have an obvious negative view of law enforcement, specifically the officers. That’s where the role of the School Resource Officer (SRO) comes in and why I want to highlight the role of law enforcement in the boot camp first. Most of the officers that work in the 21st Century program are SROs that work alongside our cadets in the school system. Here, I want to highlight the importance of what that officer does, and touch on a few other programs that they are involved with in the local community.
Loganville provides some of the best and most unique resources and opportunities available for parents in the state of Georgia. When it comes to successful interventions and programs that help youth, Loganville rates at the top - even nationally. In 2010, Loganville’s LPDSRO Unit was recognized by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) as a top model for School Resource Units in the nation. That means that others can, and probably will, model their programs after ours.
The small town community involvement that I find in Loganville is very unique. It is truly unprecedented the cooperation that occurs between school, the courts, and law enforcement. And right in the middle - the community of people that make it work. Ask Loganville High School SRO Dustin Peterson, or any parent who has had a child in Police Explorers. Peterson shares his thoughts on the success of the program. He says that:
“Many skills such as leadership, responsibility, law enforcement protocols, as well as many others are developed through the program to help the explorer become successful in their future endeavors. Practical exercises accompany all topics so that the explorer has hands on experience of what they may encounter in the field.”
The LPD Police Explorer Program is in its sixth year. During this time, over 200 young adults in the community have participated in the program with many of those students going on to serve their communities in public safety and armed forces service.
Most people have no idea how much our police force in Loganville does, especially the Community Policing Division (CPD) headed up by Lieutenant Joseph Cantrell of the Loganville Police Department. The CPD is responsible for the Neighborhood Watch Programs set up in nearly every neighborhood in the city, and bicycle patrols for community organizations such as parades. They are available to instruct concerning the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) programs that have seen cuts in Georgia in past years. When not instructing children in the schools, SRO Officer Bob Gilbert can be found providing gang awareness to groups of concerned parents on the campuses of Loganville schools.
If that wasn’t enough, you’ll find them four nights a week working with at-risk kids in the 21st Juvenile Court Century Boot Camp Program. It has received A+ ratings and rave reviews from local parents whom have utilized its services. It is unique in its partnership between school, court system and police divisions which is critical to the success of programs that serve youth, especially at-risk youth. Site coordinator Lieutenant Joseph Cantrell stated:
“It is unprecedented in the state to see cooperation like this between a juvenile court judge and a school superintendent. (WCPS Superintendent) Gary Hobbs is very supportive of law enforcement and Judge Rhymer is just as supportive of our schools.”
Myself, I believe that it is the partnership and cooperation that makes it work. I can attest to that first hand: I am one of the Lieutenant's Instructors. I have seen first hand how vital the relationship between instructor and cadet can be, especially if that instructor is a law officer. The rapport is critical -- especially when a child has had a negative experience due to his or her own unruly behavior or lawbreaking. The boot camp provides the opportunity to see the true intent of law enforcement which is to serve and protect.
On several occasions, when dealing with a cadet with a problem, I immediately pool my resources. There are PT Instructors, teachers that tutor in the program (some of whom may know the cadets as students), our site liaison who has access to the cadets school dealings (whether grades or behavior issues), probation officers, or the Resource Officer who is probably already aware of the issue I’m dealing with at the moment. By the time a cadet gets to me, he or she has probably already seen the SRO who can apprise me of vitally needed information to intervene in a crisis situation. My job is secondary to theirs. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have Officer Bob Gilbert, SRO for Loganville Middle School, on hand!
Most people think that school resource officers (SRO) sit around schools waiting for a crime to be committed; clearly, the most misunderstood character in a school! While an SRO is a fully trained police officer with arresting authority, their primary focus is working with the schools administration to maintain a safer learning environment. A typical day for an SRO may include:
1. Conflict intervention / resolution between students, providing advice to a troubled student
2. Building a positive rapport with students at the school
3. Consulting with school officials regarding issues at the school or in the community.
4. At the bottom of the responsibilities an SRO has might be to investigate the circumstances surrounding a crime committed on the school grounds.
When not educating students on law related topics in the classroom setting, an SRO spends a good deal of time in the community educating parents and others. In Loganville, a few months back, Lieutenant Cantrell did just that, stepping outside of his jurisdiction to reach as many as possible. Walton County held a Parent Resource Fair, hosted by the Title I Program, 21st Century CCLC and the Department of Exceptional Education, at Youth Middle School. Cantrell and several of his staff attended. He and Instructor Major Tom Evans, who is the Senior ROTC Instructor for Winder-Barrow High School, taught a class entitled, Tough Love: Surviving the Teen Years. We found out afterwards that out of close to twenty classes offered, “Tough Love” was the most largely attended. It shouldn’t come as a surprise - parents are looking for answers. Things are changing rapidly and the time to offer concrete, long lasting solutions is now. Otherwise, Loganville could become a statistic.
Loganville has always been an ideal place to settle down, raise kids and get involved with a great community; and it still is. However, as with any small town, growth brings its troubles, namely larger, more transient populations moving into schools and communities. If left unchecked, kids become at risk for behaviors that can endanger their safety and can escalate into criminal activity if not monitored carefully. Not all communities have the resources to meet the needs as they arise, and end up going down a very slippery path. But then, not all communities have the people, programs and teamwork that Loganville can brag about.
THE BOOT CAMP:
The Boot camp is distinctive in its mission. While many programs offer great interventions, they don’t offer the deterrence that the boot camp does. I’ve witnessed that in my career in intervention. Kids come back for the attention and direction that they need, but it doesn’t actually stop the behavior. The deterrent factor breaks down the walls, so that the child will be in a position to listen. Otherwise, the walls that a child has built around themselves stay intact. In the boot camp, we don’t deal with ordinary, common mischief, but acts of defiance that become unbearable and cause an impasse in the home between parent and child. That’s why the program is also offered to parents who can enroll their child as a volunteer for 30 days. It’s not just for juvenile court kids, it’s for parents who need help and need it now! There are community liaisons available to offer other needed resources, such as psychological services, the Alcove for a safety net when needed, as well as numerous others. And just as stated previously in the article, the accountability factor is there. All entities (school, home, and law enforcement when necessary) are involved to help get pre-teens and teens back on track, and we have testimony after testimony that it works.
Loganville is slated to be a model for the state where it comes to showing what community is all about. Look around you and ask yourself: If I were looking for a place to work, settle down and raise my kids, would I choose Loganville all over again? If the answer is yes, then add one more thing to your list – stay informed, get involved with your community and get to know those that work hard in your behalf to keep your community safe and well. You’ll be glad you did.
The following are links to articles of interest.