Changing negative attitudes about police
Fifth grade teachers Amy Gottesman and Denise Rogers had an agenda. Their students were examining the connection between crime and drug use. But, admitted Amy, "We hit a dead end." Denise concurred. A significant portion of our students had negative attitudes toward the police.
"If we were going to do a project about crime and drugs in the neighborhood, we wanted to address the negative attitudes and the issue at the same time."
Teachers have many reasons to invite community partners to class during the course of their service-learning project. They may want their students to put a human face on the issue they are studying, or better understand the causes and effects of the issue. With this goal of helping their students develop a more positive attitude toward the police, Amy and Denise set to work preparing their students for the visit.
"We talked about trends over the years," said Amy. "I showed them a graph of the number of drug-related arrests in their zip code and we talked about what might have caused this dramatic increase."
Their planning for the visit was thorough. Still, Amy and Denise were surprised by the results.
"I figured the police would talk and the kids would ask questions. I had no idea the officers would have such good information, and no idea that the kids' spur-of-the-moment questions would be so good, said Denise.
"The officers' message of 'college over drugs' really stuck with the kids," added Amy. "Lots of the students wrote about that in their reflections."
Knowing the officers were from their school's police district contributed to the power of the visit.
"When they walked in the door, the kids said, 'I've seen him,' said Denise. "Instead of being a faceless police officer, there was a familiarity."
Amy agreed, adding, "Some kids lack continuity [at home]. It's nice [for them] to see that people care about what goes on here."