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Safe Schools program receives positive results

In late 2006 a group of leaders came together to figure out how to prevent students from causing disruptions in schools.

It seemed the students ran things, instead of teachers and administrators.

Children wound up in youth court far too often.

And, as Judge Bob Armstrong tells students who stand before him, “If you come to our court, we’re going to eat you up.”

But Armstrong and others, including Mike Irwin, a juvenile probation officer, wanted to find a way to give students positive feedback for good behavior, instead of accentuating the negative.

Thus, the Safe School Program was born.

Here’s how it works: Schools in Dallas County and Selma City systems compete with one another to see which school has the best record for behavior. At the end of the year, those students are rewarded with a trophy and prizes for the kids. Some of those prizes are high-end, including iPods and laptop computers.

Yet, the program’s success is not in the gifts; it is in the statistics.

For example, in 2007, Selma High School reported 75 incidents involving students. In 2008 those reported incidents dropped to 13.

Overall in city and county systems in 2007 at least 200 incidents involving students were reported. In 2009 that number dropped to 66.

“The prizes and gifts and us — we are not the only reason,” Armstrong said. “There are good principals and good administrators out there. This is a partnership between the schools and us.”

The Safe School Program isn’t the only deterrent in the youth court tool box. There’s the detention center, which has had an effect on students since it opened in 2007. There’s also myriad programs: Teen Court, Drug Court, the Juvenile Conference Committee and a mentoring program.

“All of it adds together,” said Irwin. “It’s working.”

The message isn’t just a one-time pep rally with Armstrong and Irwin leading the pack — although those events get students motivated without a doubt.

But the poster contests mean those posters stay up year round. Walk down the halls of any school in the area, you’ll see the artwork and read the messages: “Just walk away. Don’t fight back.”

This year, Martin Middle School took the honors. Armstrong and Irwin went to the school with the big trophy and the prizes. Martin Middle has worked hard for the designation as the safest school.

“When you do positive things and good things, it has a ripple effect,” Armstrong said.