Keeping kids busy and out of trouble during the summer is a message school leaders and Metro police hope will translate over into the school year.
On a steamy July afternoon, dozens of excited, energetic middle school students packed the gym at Oliver Middle School. That’s because they’re spending a week of their summer attending the G.R.E.A.T Program.
“G.R.E.A.T stands for gang resistance education and training,” said MNPD officer and G.R.E.A.T instructor, officer Mark Bennett.
“We talk about a number of subjects, including anti-bullying, how to set goals, communities you belong to, we also dispel all the different myths about gangs and violence,” he said.
The program strives to provide a school-based, police officer instructed program that includes classroom instruction and various learning activities.
Instructors have a wide range of experience in recognizing and combating criminal behavior, as well as the ability to recognize gang activity.
Officer Bennett is also a passionate School Resource Officer working in Metro’s North Precinct. Bennett believes education on such serious topics needs to start at an early age.
“We are blessed to touch them in the middle schools, but we all know we need to get to the elementary schools.”
In cities across the country, studies show kids and young teens are being approached and recruited by gangs.
Antioch mother, Talia Monget-Simmons, is familiar with the topic.
“Early on in my son’s teenage years, my husband started recognizing some of the signs of maybe him affiliated with being in a gang,” she said.
Monget-Simmons’ son, 17-year-old Antwand Covington Jr., was murdered back in 2012.
“A lot of these kids [responsible] were gang-related, that’s no mystery,” she said. “So, if they have a beef with someone and they’re not in the same gang, then what is it going to boil down to?”
Monget-Simmons said Antwand was attending a sweet 16 birthday party when he was shot and killed almost immediately after exiting the car.
“I thought it was a joke,” she said. “I just didn’t think it was real.”
Now, Talia strives to help other parents.
“I am willing to help anybody because to be in my seat is just the worst thing you can ever see. Your child being buried or your child laying on a gurney with no life.”
Monget-Simmons believes minimal consequences for minors who commit crimes, and boredom are both contributing factors as to why they turn to violence.
“Idle minds, that’s the devil’s workshop,” she said. “They’re bored so what are they going to do? They’re going to find something they think is fun or somebody’s going to entice them.”
With 77 different summer camps offered by Metro Schools, Officer Bennett agrees that keeping kids busy is a good start.
He said programs like G.R.E.A.T are designed to do just that.
“The students who had the G.R.E.A.T Program are less likely to join gangs, less likely to be scared of police officers,” he said. “One of the things I tell my kids is that every decision has a positive and negative consequence.”
Nashville joins police departments in 47 other states who now provide the G.R.E.A.T program to students in schools ranging from the fourth through eighth grade.
News 2 is your official back-to-school station. We’ve got special reports every day leading up to the first day of class. See our stories on air and in our Back 2 School section on wkrn.com.