This teen is spending time in the gym rather than jail, thanks to this cop

Skokie police officer Mario Valenti is changing the perception of police in his community with a little compassion, and $150.

Valenti was recently called to X-Sport Fitness in Skokie, Ill., over a teen who was repeatedly sneaking into the facility without a membership, but instead of arresting 15-year-old Vincent Gonzales on trespassing charges, he opted instead to buy the boy a $150 short-term membership, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“I thought I was going to be arrested at the time,” said Gonzales, who continued to visit the facility to play basketball with his friends long after his mother’s membership expired. “I was very surprised. I want to say thank you.”

Gonzales, a sophomore at Uplift Community High School in Chicago, told the Tribune he was repeatedly busted sneaking in over several months before officials called the police. Valenti’s response, he said, was unexpected.

“It changes how I view police a lot, actually,” Gonzales said. “Now, I know there are some bad cops and some good. There’s a mixture. I used to think all cops were bad.”

His mother, Cynthia Jones, told the Tribune she was equally shocked by Valenti’s generosity.

“Oh my God, I was so surprised, so grateful, it brought tears to my eyes, that someone—a stranger—actually did something like that,” Jones said.

“I’ve had bad experiences with the police in the past—my family and people that I know,” she said. “You just never know. You have to judge somebody for that whey do and not put them in a group of people. Yeah, there are good people out there.”

Valenti said when he realized Gonzales was a “good kid” who simply wanted to play basketball, buying the boy a membership just seemed like “it was the right thing to do.”

“Honestly, I’ve been dealing with kids for over 20 years, and the worst thing for a teenager is idle time,” he said. “Obviously, he was drawn to this club, and he wanted to play basketball there, his friends were there. Having him on the street versus having him in the basketball court at X-Sport, it just seemed like the best thing to do. If it meant dip into my pocket for a little bit of money, you know, it was just the right thing to do.”

Valenti said the response from the public and the media has been “overwhelming.”

X-Sport ultimately chipped in to offer Gonzalez a full two-year membership, and news of Valenti’s kindness has since mushroomed into something much bigger.

“It’s been unbelievable so far—the output from the community and everyone who’s contacted us,” X-Sport Fitness manager Justin Pritchett told the Tribune. “We’ve had people from all across the nation, from all different states, all different media” respond.

Pritchett said a federal officer called the facility to donate a membership to another youngster who can’t afford one, and others wanted to reimburse Valenti for his contribution, though Skokie police nixed that idea.

Several callers told Pritchett “they think it’s absolutely one of the most wonderful stories they’ve heard in a long time.”

X-Sport is also now working with Skokie police to create a partnership program to help youth gain memberships at the fitness chain.

The character of public servants can have a tremendous impact on communities, and character formation takes many adults from different parts of a community focused on the formation of youth.

“Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, united, and consistent in articulating moral ideals and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation,” James Davison Hunter writes in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a framework for schools to strategize about the community building process, focusing on connections with community groups, businesses, other schools, and universities.

Schools partner with police to help traumatized students

The West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice is promoting a new way of dealing with traumatized students that’s building on the relationship between law enforcement and schools.

The “Handle With Care” program spawned from high percentages of students in West Virginia schools dealing with traumatic home lives, and is designed to give police a means of tipping off schools that specific students could be struggling with serious problems. The program also highlights the importance of schools cultivating partnerships with the community, a critical element required for a variety of educational objectives, from developing character education programs to combating chronic absenteeism.

The Register-Herald reports:

According to 2016 data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than half of West Virginia’s children (52.4 percent) have had at least one adverse childhood experience. Roughly 26 percent of the state’s children had two or more adverse experiences, such as the death or incarceration of a parent, witnessing or being a victim of violence, or living with someone who is suicidal or has substance use disorder.

Director Andrea Darr of the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice told Concord University sociology students during a recent presentation on the “trauma-informed approach,” that “teachers aren’t trained to handle these children.”

“They see a misbehaving child,” she said. “They’re disrupting class so other students can’t learn, but traumatized children aren’t learning either.”

The program, launched as a pilot project in 2013 at Mary C. Snow Elementary School in Charleston, encourages local police officers to record the name, age, and school of children involved in potentially traumatizing incidents.

Officers then contact schools with a confidential text, fax, or phone call to alert administrators that a child may experience difficulty at school and they should “handle this student with care,” Darr said.

The information is not recorded as part of the child’s permanent record or any official police report, and officers do not disclose the nature of the incident. The intent is simply to advise schools that specific students are dealing with an emotional and turbulent time.

“All they need to know is this child might have trouble learning today,” Darr said. “It helped them be proactive instead of reactive with children in the classroom.”

The program is voluntary for county and local law enforcement, but many have answered the call to action and helped to expand the program statewide by 2015. As of February 2016, police have tipped off schools to a total of 580 incidents involving 1,056 kids, and schools are praising the program, the Register-Herald reports.

“We’ve received nothing but positive feedback,” said Eric Dillon, director of pupil services at Raleigh County Schools. “Lots of times, we as educators, administrators and counselors, we do not know that interaction is taking place outside the school. It’s always beneficial for us to know in dealing with that child the next day.”

Dillon said RCS received 149 Handle With Care referrals last year from the Beckley Police Department and the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, often times over the weekend. The information is relayed to teachers, who can then offer resources like counselors and social workers to students in need.

“There are so many things as an educator you can’t control,” Dillon said. “All our educators have the best interest in mind for all our students. To be able to intervene, to talk to the child and offer support for the child, it’s a win-win for our students and our school system.”

The effort to bring community leaders, in schools and local law enforcement, together in support of students is the same type of cohesion University of Virginia sociologist James Hunter describes in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.

“Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, united, and consistent in articulating moral ideals and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation,” Hunter writes.

School leaders, teachers, board members and others can build on the strong social networks established through the “Handle With Care” program and similar efforts to intentionally develop a school ecosystem that supports good character, which would undoubtedly benefit both traumatized students and their classmates.

The Jubilee Centre offers a framework for schools to think through the community building process, with specific considerations for pupils and parents, as well as methods for connecting with community groups, businesses, other schools, and universities.

HS football ‘man builder’ lessons tackle off-field growth

Fruita Monument High School coaches want their players to think about the kind of people they want to be, and to apply weekly “man builder” lessons both on and off the field.

“It’s the real part of coaching,” assistant coach Cameron Ross told The Daily Sentinel. “Football is great and it’s important, but it’s a small piece in the scheme of things. It’s through football that we get to teach them these life skills, these things off the field, and those will be with them the rest of their lives.”

Fruita coaches infuse the weekly character education lessons into the team’s routine, helping students to view the sport as a microcosm for life. The lessons, coaches said, are designed to focus students on the true purpose of athletics in schools, and to set students up with a strong moral foundation that will serve them well beyond graduation.

Amid a national controversy involving NFL players taking a knee or refusing to stand for the national anthem, the Fruita Monument Wildcats recently streamed into the school’s stadium for a game against Denver South High School with American flags in hand.

The experience was accompanied by a “man builder” discussion with Grand Junction Police Sgt. Lonnie Chavez, a member of the department’s honor guard, about the symbolism of the flag, proper handling etiquette, and parallels between his work as an officer and students’ roles on the football team.

“I want to impart that the choices they are making now will affect them later in life,” Chavez told the news site. “When they’re presented with that one marijuana joint, that one drink, taking pills, asking a girl to send nudes, things like that; those are things that society says are acceptable now, and I want them to know that there’s a little bit of respect left there and that respect is something you need to bring on board with you in life.

“If you take that respect and make an honorable choice,” Chavez said, “it really pays off later in life.”

The sergeant said his childhood in a military family showed him why it’s important to respect veterans, and his time as a police officer offered further insight into the symbolism of the American flag. But the lessons, including the recent talk about the flag, have more to do with respect than politics.

“As a member of the honor guard, it’s important to know what it is that you’re carrying,” he said. “Do you know what you’re carrying? I’m not talking about taking a knee, raising a fist or anything like that. All things being equal, if you understand why you’re kneeling, I have a ton of respect for you. If you understand what you’re carrying, what you’re standing for, I have the same, equal amount of respect for you.”

Chavez’s recent talk is among a wide range of subjects covered during the season. Some of the discussions are led by coaches, others by guest speakers like Chavez. Students take notes during the “man builder” sessions to reflect on what they’ve learned, and several said they’re better for it.

Lineman Daniel Haas said the lessons have helped him “grow off the field,” according to The Daily Sentinel, while kicker/receiver Marcus Mosnes said players have “become better men” thanks to their coaches.

“You learn from (the coaches) and other experiences,” Mosnes said. “We just learn to be better people. Sure, there are going to be challenges in life and stuff, but there are always ways to face it.”

The efforts in Fruita are also the types of intentional character education lessons students rely on to shape not only their worldviews, but also the moral fabric of their lives.

James Davison Hunter, sociologist at the University of Virginia, explained why that’s important in his most recent book The Tragedy of Moral Education in America:

So we are not born with moral understanding, a worldview that gives coherence to life, or ideals to guide our lives. These are what culture provides us, through the overlapping communities into which we are socialized. First among these communities, of course, is the family, for it is as very small children in the context of our families that we begin learning what is right and wrong, and why.

But families generally don’t live in isolation; rather, they are part of a larger network of social groups and institutions that typically include faith communities, schools, volunteer associations, and the like, which together form a moral ecosystem or moral culture.

The nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance recognizes the role of coaches as part of the larger social network that strongly influences students’ character, and advocates for the kind of “double-goal coaching” making a difference in Fruita.

In The Power of Double-Goal Coaching, Alliance founder Jim Thompson explains why coaches should embrace their roles to “transform the culture of youth sports to make it a positive, character-building experience for every youth athlete” and lays out practical tools they can use to help students in a variety of athletics.

Backed by a national advisory board that features Olympic Gold Medalists Brandi Chastain and Summer Sanders, as well as 11-time NBA Championship coach Phil Jackson and others, the Alliance also offers live workshops, online courses, and other programs specifically for parents, coaches, athletes and school leaders.