Education Week 08-29-17

Letter to Editor: A Bridge Between Students and the Police

To the Editor:

A blog post from earlier this summer poses interesting questions about whether students should be required to learn appropriate behavior when interacting with police (“Should Students Be Taught How to Deal With Police?,” July 7, 2017). But it fails to discuss the importance of considering how this information is taught or by whom, both of which influence what is taught.

Strategies for Youth, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving interactions between police and youths and reducing disproportionate minority contact, has addressed this issue in schools and on the streets for seven years. To do so, we use an interactive game similar to “Jeopardy” that teaches young people how to navigate interactions with their peers and the police, understand the legal consequences of their conduct, and be aware of the short- and long-term consequences of arrest and court records on their educational and employment opportunities.

We have seen that information regarding expected student behaviors, rights, and responsibilities must be made relevant to youths’ lives. The information has to be presented by a credible adult who is engaging and committed to keeping youths out of the juvenile-justice system. By making a game of questions about what could happen based on situations in which youths typically find themselves, we trigger their sense of competition and challenge their assumptions and knowledge. Though they often begin the session disengaged, they start to jump up, answer questions, and turn into leaders.

We also have learned that improved communication and respect between police and young people is achieved most quickly when police also participate. Police officers can learn school codes of conduct and juvenile law, as well as how adolescents are influenced by social media and how they perceive the legal system. They can also answer difficult questions about racial and gender disparities in police treatment. Real progress becomes possible when both sides move a little closer toward one another through empathy and greater understanding of the difficulties they face. As usual, education can provide the great bridge to achieve this outcome.

Lisa H. Thurau
Executive Director
Strategies for Youth
Cambridge, Mass.