HomeBillings NewsBillings School District proposes safety mill levy to combat gangs through education

Billings School District proposes safety mill levy to combat gangs through education

Billings, Montana – In an effort to bolster safety and prevent gang involvement among students, the Billings School District 2 is poised to implement a comprehensive safety mill levy, provided it gains approval from the community. This innovative initiative aims not only to enhance physical safety measures within schools but also to integrate essential educational components that could significantly impact students’ lives by connecting their learning to real-world opportunities.

A Focus on Prevention and Education

Dr. Erwin Garcia, the Superintendent of Billings School District 2, emphasized the critical link between school engagement and the prevention of gang involvement. He pointed out a striking statistic: “And actually 81% of kids that dropped from school, they have done so because they don’t feel that there are opportunities that connect their lives through the real world.” This insight sheds light on the importance of making education relevant and engaging to deter students from dropping out and potentially joining gangs.

The proposed levy, amounting to approximately $5 million, is set to allocate significant resources—nearly $2.5 million each to both elementary and high school districts—toward foundational academic areas, with a strong emphasis on reading. According to Garcia, enhancing academic engagement is a pivotal strategy in keeping children within the educational system and away from the pathways that lead to gang affiliation and, ultimately, incarceration. He notes, “Kids who drop out are three times more likely to be imprisoned,” highlighting the urgency of addressing this issue proactively.

Comprehensive Support Systems

In addition to educational strategies, the levy proposal includes the introduction of mental health specialists, counselors, gang prevention experts, and an increased number of school resource officers. These professionals are integral to creating a supportive and secure school environment where every student has access to the care and guidance they need.

Garcia emphasizes the need for specialized support to “enhance the footprint of the caring adult in the building,” underlining the importance of positive adult influences in students’ lives. This comprehensive approach extends beyond traditional safety measures to encompass a broader strategy aimed at fostering resilience, good decision-making skills, and the ability to resist gang involvement among students.

While the original plan considered the incorporation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program, adjustments have been made due to the program’s current hiatus in training. However, the principles underpinning the G.R.E.A.T. program, which focus on building strong relationships with officers and school personnel to educate students about avoiding gangs, remain central to the district’s approach.

Meena Harris, director of the G.R.E.A.T. program, advocates for the effectiveness of this strategy, stating, “Make them more resilient and being able to make good choices. And work through ways of how to say no if they need to say no.” This approach has proven successful since the 1990s, offering a viable component in combating community and gun violence.

Furthermore, the district is implementing programs aimed at teaching students about respect, empathy, positive communication, and the avoidance of bullying and teasing. These initiatives are part of a broader effort to create a safe and nurturing educational environment where students can thrive and are less likely to turn to gangs.

The Billings School District 2’s comprehensive safety and education levy represents a forward-thinking approach to addressing the intertwined issues of school safety, educational engagement, and gang prevention. By focusing on both the physical safety and the educational and emotional well-being of students, the district aims to create a positive and secure learning environment that not only educates but also protects its students.

Mason Clark

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