A room full of police officers, legal experts, parole officers, counselors, teachers, and other professionals all in attendance to learn how to be more effective in their profession from Bench Mark Program students.
We were excited to participate in Lancaster County’s 3rd Annual Crime Prevention Summit at the IU13 on March 29, 2019. We had seven students on our panel from three different school districts all focusing on “Equipping All of Us to Prevent Crime.” While its no easy task to articulate your thoughts and feelings in front of a large group of strangers, our students did an amazing job. The panel took questions from the audience for an hour in a large group session of about 100 people. They exceeded our expectations and thoroughly impressed the audience with their thoughtful and educated responses to controversial or difficult-to-discuss topics like school safety, drugs, interacting with law enforcement, and more.
On questions of school safety and whether or not students feel safe in their respective schools, the consensus was unfortunately “no.” Our students feel that many times serious incidents happening on school property are “pushed under the rug” and students are often only given vague details about what happened. Lack of clear information allows rumors to run wild throughout the student body and makes everyone unsure of the status of the situation. Our panel called for more communication between teachers, administration and students when dealing with incidents on and off campus.
Recalling a fight that happened recently outside of his classroom, Gavin believed better communication and trust between students and teachers could have prevented the altercation altogether. “That could have been me. It’s not a safe environment when you have all this going on and not enough interaction with teachers and students. If the teachers and students aren’t talking, how are we supposed to know the things that are going to happen. People knew that (the fight) was going to happen, it might have been prevented.”
A little interaction can go a long way. Lancaster Mennonite student, Sarelis pointed out that it doesn’t need to be a long discussion between students and adults to make an impact “What I would like to see is officers, or people that have that type of status, interacting more with youth…because how are we supposed to trust you if we never talk. Just say, ‘hi, how was your day?’ or a wave, just acknowledging that I’m there.”
Our panel told the audience that an appreciation for this type of interaction is what makes them feel so comfortable at Bench Mark Program.
School District of Lancaster student, Enzo, heard about Bench Mark through a friend: “He told me, it’s a really great place, a small community to get your mind off of some things. I appreciate Will and his wife Karla for everything, I appreciate all the instructors, all my friends I’ve made there, because I consider them family and I really appreciate all the time and dedication they put into everybody.
Phoenix Academy student, Mila, received applause from the audience when she revealed how she’s gone from failing grades to all A’s (and one B) when she stopped skipping school and started attending Bench Mark. Now she’s passing what she learned onto others: “I tell them: skipping is not where you want to go, it's not the right path. I tell them, if you think you can just skip and get your diploma and get on that stage, it’s not that simple. You got work to do. I feel like people who talk from experience it brings more light and detail to them because you want them to choose right.”
Sarelis finished her discussion on the panel with some advice for adults trying to interact more with youth. She says this is something that all the mentors at Bench Mark do, she explains “They say ‘I’m not going to pretend like I know what you’re going through’ because we grew up in two completely different environments so I guess just having a sense of like ‘I don’t know what you’re going through, but I want to understand’ and not pushing that young person to tell you exactly what’s going on and just say ‘I’m here if you want to talk’.”
A crime prevention summit can’t be complete without the voices of the youth who live in crime-stricken neighborhoods. They grow up with it, they learn how to cope with it, and they have some of the most valuable insights into how we can prevent it for future generations. Maybe it’s simpler than we think? Maybe interacting a little more purposefully with youth in our communities is the key to lifting an entire community out of crime.
Thank you to the Lancaster County Crime Prevention Task Force for having us, thank you to the audience for listening and asking thoughtful/interesting questions, and of course, our greatest thank you to the Bench Mark Students that participated and shared their knowledge of and insights into our community. You continue to make us proud every day!