As director of Youth Services for Oak Park and River Forest townships (an intergovernmental collaboration) and chair of the Gang and Drug Task Force (an intergovernmental collaboration with 11 local taxing bodies, including the Village of Oak Park, Village of River Forest, District 200, District 97, District 90, the Park District of Oak Park, River Forest Park District, Oak Park Public Library, River Forest Public Library, River Forest Township and Oak Park Township) I have some knowledge of the power of these two communities when we decide to name a problem, accept responsibility to address it, commit to work together, and supply the necessary resources.
From that place, I welcome and applaud the Wednesday Journal editorial [The noble cause of student discipline, Viewpoints, Aug. 31], naming discipline and grade gaps as multifaceted issues needing to be owned by the community at large: “We can’t emphasize enough that this is a community-wide, not a school problem” and “There needs to be a stronger community commitment to solving this problem.”
I do have a beef with part of the statement: “The police?#34;whose involvement in school discipline issues we recognize as a sometimes necessary evil?#34;are doing their part by increasing the number of resource officers in schools.” It is unfortunate that there are behavioral and discipline issues that rise to levels that necessitate police intervention.
However unfortunate the necessity, it is not an “evil” one.
In terms of “doing their part,” the police do that. They do more than that and are willing to extend themselves even more. I recommend taking them up on that offer.
Police Department relationship-building and presence in the school systems and communities through Community Policing, Beat Officers, Juvenile Officers, School Resource Officer Programs, D.A.R.E./I SEARCH, Explorer’s Post, Mock Trials with the Assistant State’s Attorney’s Community Prosecutions office, Junior Police Academy, Bicycle Safety, etc. are meaningful preventive and early intervention efforts where I see pay-off in preventing crisis situations from exploding into violence over and over again. The local police departments and staff have been nothing less than a blessing to us in the area of youth issues.
Over the past 16 years of working in these communities, I have been in literally hundreds of homes of citizens in the company of the police to meet with parents and youths to prevent violence and encourage people to make good use of the considerable resources the schools and communities offer.
The School Resource Officers (SROs) are fine officers of fine departments and caring individuals who make a difference in the lives of youth every day. I’ve the pleasure and honor to count them and their fellow officers as colleagues working with youth.
The departments from the chief and deputy chiefs, command staff, sergeants and patrol officers have a demonstrable interest personally and professionally in young people succeeding in school and in life.
Like our village, library, school, parks, and township partners, I count them among our strongest allies in service to youth and am thankful for their involvement, professionalism and dedication.
There have been times over the past 11 years that the only thing all members of the Gang and Drug Task Force agreed upon was when I’d ask, “Anyone here think youth involvement in Gangs and Drugs is a good thing?” no one raised their hands. It is tough work to get on the same page and tougher still to maintain.
Yet it needs to happen if meaningful progress is to occur. Our kids need us to figure all this out, and we need to do it together. Our children watch and learn from how we treat one another in this process. How we treat each other?#34;even during heated, emotional, tough issues?#34;model behavior for our youth. It would behoove us all to be mindful of what lessons we wish to impart.
Not having a solution at hand, let me offer a question: Given all we know and all we have to offer, what is the most loving thing to do for our kids and community?