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Learning to make GREAT decisions

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PUYALLUP, Wash. -- For some kids, just saying "no" isn't nearly enough. The
pressure to conform and get involved with drugs, gangs and other risky
behavior is often a very real possibility in their lives. Enter the Gang
Resistance Education and Training program, a series of classes that teaches
kids many ways to avoid dangerous situations.

Puyallup Tribal Police Officer Allan Gerking is on-site at Chief Leschi
School throughout the school day. He leads the weekly sessions for
sixth-graders in their classrooms. "The GREAT program gives the students an
opportunity to have a positive relationship with a police officer," he
said. "This program helps them develop beliefs and practice behaviors that
will help them avoid destructive habits."

The 13-week course concentrates on goal setting, anger management, conflict
resolution and active listening skills. Lessons include role-playing about
situations in which kids may find themselves, including decisions about
going to unsupervised parties, smoking, drinking and getting involved in
fights. Students take turns reading from the program's workbook and then
review possible ways to handle each situation.

"It's cool because we get to learn what to do and what not to do," said
13-year-old Robert James Harris. "We learned it's good to call the police
if someone has a gun instead of trying to take it away."

Talking about real-life circumstances is part of every 45-minute lesson.
Whether it's how to handle gossip or the effect of violence in a video
game, students are asked to look at how the situations may impact their
lives and how they might react to it. Twelve-year-old Grace Schaefer
appreciates the skills she's learning. "I've learned different ways to say
no to people and make good decisions. I usually make jokes or switch the
subject when I feel pressure to do something I don't want to do," said

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Students are also being introduced to the GREAT decision-making model. Here
they are learning ways to think about the problem, review options, evaluate
the positive and negative outcomes, choose the best option and decide if
that's what they would do in the future.

Sixth-grade teacher Cinnamon Bear said reaching students at this age is
vital. "Sixth grade is a critical transition time for students. They have
to make a lot of important decisions now that will have a lasting impact on
the rest of their lives. Programs such as GREAT will give them a better
knowledge base from which to make positive decisions for themselves and
their communities."

Being a part of a community is a key component of the GREAT curriculum.
Students are asked to identify groups they belong to and how they can
impact them. They learn that communities can include school, family, sports
teams, canoe clubs and after-school activities. Taking pride in and being a
positive influence in one or more communities is a healthy lifestyle the
GREAT program promotes as a way to stay out of gangs and unhealthy

Gerking enjoys relating with students and creating an ongoing relationship
with them. "I see a lot of the kids that are in my classes throughout the
school," he said. "I am able to reinforce what the expectations are in the
GREAT program because I already have that relationship with them and can
continue to build on it.

"I hope they understand they do have choices in life and that doing
something positive is always better than to do something that's negative."