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Not many students can say that they have also been teachers, but that’s exactly what 11th grade students had the opportunity to become when they sat down for a recent listening session with Baltimore County law enforcement officers.
The students were from Springbrook High School’s Justice, Law and Society Academy in Montgomery County, Maryland, and they were participating in Street Law’s Police & Teens Program.
The Police & Teens Program includes lessons on everyday law and interacting with law enforcement, including community policing, police procedures, rights and responsibilities, criminal law, and personal safety and health. The goal of the Police & Teens Program is to build empathy, awareness, and trust between young people and officers using student-centered and interactive lessons that collaboratively explore issues of justice and empower young people with a practical law-related education and civic skills.
During the final session in a series of virtual training workshops for Baltimore County law enforcement officers assigned to schools and community programs, the students shared thoughtful questions and honest concerns with the officers, who then responded and engaged in a critical dialogue.
Jennifer Laskin, a member of Street Law’s Leadership Circle and an attorney, advocate, and Springbrook High School teacher, helped prepare the students and set the stage for the conversation. She told the officers one of their most important jobs was to demystify the stereotypes and myths about their job and the role that law enforcement officers play in the students’ lives.
The conversation between police and students spanned topics including perceptions of police and the impact of race and socioeconomic status on those perceptions, officer training and accountability, student needs and officer responses, and officers carrying guns in schools. The students provided candid feedback about controversial issues, but they also shared how important they felt school police officers could be in positively framing how students viewed police.
One officer described how he builds relationships with students by playing basketball and dodgeball with them. He shared that letting his own guard down allows the students to be comfortable with him. Another officer shared after the training that his favorite part of the listening session was connecting with youth and hearing their perspective on policing.
A powerful theme of the conversation focused on building trust and relationships with students by validating their opinions and issues, something the participating officers were immediately able to put into practice as they listened and responded to the students’ points during the virtual training. Ultimately, the students said, they just want to be respected and treated as the officers might treat their own children.
Officers developed implementation plans to implement the Police & Teens Program over the summer as well as during the 2021-2022 school year. Each officer will receive certificates of completion and six hours of training credit.