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Kansas programs show strength of law enforcement and afterschool partnerships

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Kansas programs show strength of law enforcement and afterschool partnerships

This is a two-part blog series outlining Kansas’ commitment to establishing partnerships between law enforcement and afterschool programs. The previous post focused on the afterschool network and this post delves into specific programs.

Rachel Willis, who I interviewed for yesterday’s blog post about the Kansas Enrichment Network’s prioritization of partnerships between afterschool programs and law enforcement, mentioned that the impacts of the partnerships are best demonstrated in the programs themselves. Following our interview, I reached out to representatives from three different afterschool programs in Kansas: the Boys & Girls Club of Coffeyville, a 21st Century Comunity Learning Center program at Park Elementary School, and the Boys & Girls Club of Topeka, all who shared the profound impact of the partnerships.  

Griffin Walker, the chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Coffeyville, excitedly told me about the strong relationships students form with police officers in the program, especially through their Christmas shopping program, “Shop With the Cops.” For ten years now, the community has raised money for police officers to take kids shopping for Christmas. Griffin told a story of a child who had previously resented law enforcement, but after their Christmas shopping experience, he exclaimed “you’re not so bad after all!” In order to take part in “Shop With the Cops,” students must maintain strong attendance and behaviors, and data has shown that students have made these improvements so that they can participate in the program. Aside from the Christmas program, officers hang around the program site to not only protect the space, but also to conduct Stranger Danger training with the children, read with the children, and participate in monthly meetings with the program advisory board.

I also spoke with Makenzie Gurss, who is a S.T.E.A.L.T.H. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Leadership, Tutoring, Health) site coordinator at Park Elementary School in downtown Wichita. She explained that the school was “adopted” by the Broadway Corridor Police Cohort, who frequently come spend time with the kids and attend a variety of events ranging from soccer games to parent nights to art shows. In this case, the Police Cohort made the connection with the school. “They approached us about the partnerships, they wanted to come into schools and give kids a positive attitude toward police.”

The partnership has certainly found success, because children love when the police come and actually argue over who gets to hang out with them. Makenzie explained that there are usually five to ten kids jostling for the attention of one police officer! The police also participate in the Let Me Run program, in which students train for a 5K and then run it with their law enforcement running buddies. Makenzie told a story about a fifth grader with special needs who was incredibly quiet and reserved prior to participating in the Let Me Run program who really flourished as a result of the program and his interaction with his running buddy. His teachers credit his afterschool experience with his growth.

Finally, I spoke with Dawn McWilliams, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Topeka. Dawn herself used to be a police officer so she came into her role with a pre-existing commitment from law enforcement to work together. “I was a law enforcement officer before starting at Boys & Girls Club and I was really unaware of the situations kids encounter until I answered some of those calls and I was pretty beside myself at some of the living conditions. I’m a real systems person and I wanted to fix that.”

Since joining the team, Dawn has helped instill an incredibly robust partnership with law enforcement. Officers lead resiliency programs related to alcohol, drugs, and violence, centering on teaching students to make more informed choices. Some of the police department budget goes to the Boys & Girls Club for these preventative measures. Law enforcement officers are also integral to the literacy program, reading books with the students and then engaging in dialogue about life lessons from the books. Officers are also involved in the healthy lifestyles program, which incorporates physical education, leadership skills, character building, and food services.

The improvement in relations between law enforcement and the community has been palpable. Following an alarming situation in which an unarmed black man was shot by a police officer, the police department reached out to the kids in the program for advice. The young people facilitated an open dialogue session with the officers to discuss the incident and come up with ideas to prevent such future incidents. In another situation, an officer discovered a kid headed down a dangerous path and brought him to the Boys & Girls Club, ultimately changing his life. Additionally, some students transform from hating police officers to wanting to become officers themselves. Some students participate in a Junior Cadet program, a career exploration initiative in which they learn about being a police officer. This program is beneficial to both the law enforcement community and students because it drives more interest in becoming police officers and it encourages students to think about future career options. A young man who participated in the Junior Cadet program went from hating the police to aspiring to be a school resource officer.

The three programs illustrate the vast benefits of establishing partnerships between law enforcement and afterschool programs for students, law enforcement, and the community at large. The benefits mostly derive from relationship building and community buy-in. With the support of the Kansas Enrichment Network, afterschool programs in Kansas have played a role to begin reducing youth incarceration and recidivism, but there is much more work to be done. Kansas will continue to prioritize partnerships between the law enforcement community and afterschool programs and other states should do the same.

 

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BY: Guest Blogger      03/22/19

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BY: Ursula Helminski      04/07/20

Breaking the cycle of substance use at Camp Mariposa

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BY: Guest Blogger      03/06/20

Local data for community-based prevention: Vermont Youth Project's role in reducing substance use among teens

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BY: Erin Hegarty      03/02/20

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      02/24/20

Afterschool Spotlight: Appalachian Youth to Youth

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BY: Guest Blogger      02/18/20

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      05/13/19

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BY: Erin Hegarty      05/03/19

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BY: Guest Blogger      04/23/19

In Alaska, prevention programming for marijuana use is a new priority

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      04/19/19

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BY: Guest Blogger      03/22/19

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BY: Charlotte Steinecke      01/25/19