Editor's Note: The following was submitted by the Peekskill school district. If you would like to post your news to Patch, click here.
Officer Leo Dylewski has been a police officer for the past 13 years, 12 of which he has spent working with the City of Peekskill Police Department. For the last 9 years he has been teaching Drug Abuse Resistance Education (better known as D.A.R.E.) to fifth graders in the Peekskill City School District and in 2008, began teaching Gang Resistance Education and Training (or G.R.E.A.T.) to the district’s sixth graders as well.
Together, with the help of officers like Dylewski, the Peekskill City School District and the City of Peekskill Police Department have formed a collaborative effort to help keep the youth of our community focused on a positive future and this June will be graduating over 200 students from these programs.
Both D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. are privately funded nationwide programs designed to educate students about real-life dangers such as the ones that typically come with drug and gang involvement. Through the programs’ teachings youths are encouraged to make safe decisions while fostering meaningful relationships with adults trained to guide them down a successful path.
“[The D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. Programs] help to break down the barriers between the schools, the students and the police department,” Dylewski said. “A bond and a trust form between all of those involved. It’s all about having a positive relationship develop with these kids and having positive interactions with them. Many of them have grown up with negative outlooks on police officers, but we have been able to change their opinions about that.”
In addition to the traditional teachings of the programs that have been presented over the past 20 years, a new range of topics have been added to the courses’ curriculums to include issues such as bullying, self-esteem building, self-control and anger management.
Dylewski says that the programs newly revamped system of educating is more suitable to today’s students than the previous program was, and that both the newer D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. programs have been very well received by students.
“The old programs were a lot of lecturing,” Dylewski said. “The new programs involve much more critical thinking on behalf of the students. It also covers new class topics by proposing problems and offering solutions.”
In his classes, Dylewski takes a realistic approach to problem solving and often has his students break into groups so they can act out different real-life scenarios that they might one day face on their own. He uses local landmarks in the role playing activities to make the experience even more personal for the children, for example, a group might act out a scene in Depew Park. Dylewski then works with the children to focus on ways to resist peer pressure and make their own decisions.
“Using real landmarks makes it easier for the kids to relate to the scenario, and will hopefully help them to do the right thing if an issue ever arises; they’ll think, ‘Okay, I’ve done this before,’” Dylewski said.
“I like the program,” said Christine Thompson, who teaches at Hillcrest Elementary. “It’s good for the students to see the police officers in the school and for them to be able to build a relationship with them so that the children know they can go to the officers if they need to.”
The students who participate in D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. also understand the value behind the program’s teachings and enjoy the class time spent with Dylewski.
“Officer Leo helps us to understand what’s bad about the drugs and other things,” said Samantha Saca, a student in Dylewski’s D.A.R.E. class at Hillcrest. “And he makes the class a lot of fun.”
“This is your community right here,” Dylewski said. “These kids will come back to you years later if they need help.”
This is an example that was proven true when a eleven year-old former student of Dylewski’s was having trouble at home and came to him for guidance.
Dylewski also notes that because of his role as a teaching officer, he too has learned important lessons from working with elementary and middle school students.
“These programs help both parties better relate and understand each other,” Dylewski said. “Through teaching I’ve learned to understand how the students think and how they react, and have learned positive ways to deal with students, especially in times of crisis.”
Those who have expierenced D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. classes first-hand agree that the two programs are a win-win for all those involved: students, parents, teachers, officers and the extended community.
“They're really good programs,” said Mr. Murtha, whose fifth grade class is visited by Dylewski every Wednesday for D.A.R.E. “I wish we could have more of these types of programs that deal with anti-bullying and self-esteem building. Kids this age need that. And Officer Leo is great.”
All students who successfully complete their course work for D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. will be presented certificates and t-shirts in an upcoming graduation ceremony this June.
"The kids are really looking forward to their graduation," Dylewski said. "It's always an exciting event."