By Alisa Boswell
PNT staff writer
Despite its name — Gang Resistance Education and Training — a new program being introduced in city schools is not geared toward gangs but life in general, according to Portales Police Department Sgt. Chris Williams.
Williams recently returned from week-long training in Ruidoso for the program, which teaches life skills to elementary and junior high-age children.
"It was originally started by the Phoenix Police Department as a gang-resistance program then grew into something more about teaching kids life skills," Williams said.
He said life skills taught to fifth through eighth graders are peaceful resolutions, peer pressure, setting goals, bullying and how to deal with anger problems.
"It's not just a stand up and talk to them thing," Williams said. "It involves interaction with them."
Williams said the program will entail he and Sgt. Chris Valdez, who was also trained for the program, going to Portales Junior High School and Lindsey-Steiner Elementary classrooms and acting out scenarios with children.
He said one such scenario could include a child telling the officer how he should behave when trying to be coerced into bullying.
"Not one thing is gonna work for everybody so we teach different ways to say things or say no," Williams said. "We'll solicit from the kids, what are some more ways to say no?"
Williams, father of two and a former youth sports coach, said he volunteered to go through the training for the program when his supervisor, Lt. Mark Cage, approached him with the idea.
Williams said he loves working with children.
Cage said he pursued the program because he felt it was time the police department got more involved in local schools.
"I felt like we could take a more proactive role in the schools than we have in the past," Cage said. "We're continually evaluating and re-evaluating our efforts. It was time to try something new and this was it."
Williams said while he was attending training, he heard instructors say many shy, insecure students have come out of their shells from being in the program.
Hew said acting out scenarios gives children confidence with public speaking and more confidence to say no to peer pressure.
"Hopefully, it will help give us a good bond with the community," Williams said. "Most of what we deal with in law enforcement is reactive. These programs are a good way to be proactive."
Williams said Portales schools has already agreed to the program and he hopes for positive responses from parents, teachers and students.
"Hopefully, if it goes really well, we can get other officers to train in it and get other law enforcement agencies in the county involved."