On May 16, 2012, Detective David Stopke of the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s, State Gang Task Force, Mohave County G.II.T.E.M. Unit held a graduation ceremony for 130 students who successfully completed the elementary and middle school components of the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education And Training) curriculum. The program was taught throughout the 2011/2012 school year at Havasupai Elementary School to students from the 4th and 6th grade levels.

The G.R.E.A.T. program, which started in 1991 in Phoenix, AZ, has been taught at selected schools in the Mohave County area since 2007 by detectives from the Mohave County G.II.T.E.M. unit. The six and thirteen week program is designed to teach students the following life skills:

–                      The truth about gangs and violence.

–                      Student’s roles in their families, schools, and communities.

–                      Goal-setting tips.

–                      How to make G.R.E.A.T. decisions.

–                      Communication skills.

–                      Empathy for others.

–                      Responding to peer pressure.

–                      Anger management.

–                      How to resolve conflicts.

In addition to the lessons learned in class, the students are required to participate in activities such as role playing, small-group work, brainstorming, and large-group discussions. The 6th grade classes were required to create an “Anti” poster in which they could create a message to help other students avoid, drugs, gangs, violence, and or any negative influences. The posters were displayed around the school campus for all students, teachers and parents to see.

The graduation ceremony began with our National Anthem, sung by two 6th grade G.R.E.A.T. graduates, followed by a thank-you speech by Detective David Stopke. Key note speaker, Lake Havasu City Chief of Police, Dan Doyle congratulated the graduating students for completing the G.R.E.A.T. program as well as encouraging them to adhere to the life skills learned throughout the program. Chief Doyle spoke about his time as a G.R.E.A.T. program instructor in the early 90’s and believes the program is beneficial to students, teachers, police officers and communities alike. Havasupai school Principal Clyde Sanders thanked Detective Stopke for bringing the program to Havasupai and for keeping the program alive over the last two school years. Principal Sanders also congratulated the students and wished the 6th grade class the best of wishes as they embark upon the junior high school system.

Detective Stopke was asked what he thought was the most beneficial part of the G.R.E.A.T. program. Detective Stopke said “I believe the relationship the program builds between the students and law enforcement is priceless, many of these kids only see the police arresting their family members or friends and tend to blame us for doing our jobs. In fact over the past two school years, I have had at least twenty students tell me that my presence in the class room has changed their opinions of the police and they realize if their family or friends were not breaking the law then we would not have to arrest them”.

At the conclusion of the speeches, each graduating class room teacher was asked to the stage where they introduced their students to the audience. Each student was given a certificate of completion for the G.R.E.A.T. program in which they participated in. In addition, four students were selected and recognized by their classroom teachers as “exemplary” students that displayed leadership qualities along with the values and life skills taught in the G.R.E.A.T. program through out the school year.

Following the graduation ceremony, a small police expo was organized on the upper soccer field of the school. In attendance as part of the expo was the Arizona Department of Public Safety, (Arizona Highway Patrol) K-9 unit, Lake Havasu Police Department S.W.A.T. Team, Department of Public Safety “motor” squad from Phoenix, the Department of Public Safety Air Rescue Helicopter and the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department water safety boat.

Sponsors of the graduation ceremony included the Arizona Highway Patrol Association, Lake Havasu “Food City”, “Swire-Coca-Cola” and “Circle-K” (Kiowa). Hotdogs, chips and soda were sold at the graduation ceremony and all proceeds were donated back to Havasupai Elementary School. A total of approximately $300.00 dollars was raised and donated.

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