With the guidance and support of 31 Division Community Response Unit (CRU) officers, students in a west-end Toronto Catholic school, engaged in a leadership program, presented a cheque to Sick Kids Hospital Foundation on May 19.
Last September, the CRU team started the STAAND (Students Taking Action Against Negative Decisions) at St. Andre Catholic School.
Joe Bria, the school’s principal, said the program was developed to address concerns and promote student leadership development.
“Our mission is to cause change in behaviour for those who make negative decisions, having them become positive role models and advocates against bullying amongst their peers and schoolmates,” he said. “To date, the program has nurtured healthy relationships and continues to serve as a foundation for other initiatives designed to enhance student engagement.”
Sergeant Nick Nei played an integral part in helping to get the STAAND program off the ground.
“When Constables Greg Vanspall and Mike Adams (he’s now with South Simcoe Police) got to the CRU office, I encouraged them to come up with a community-based program,” Nei said. “I told them to take the lead and I would assist them in any way possible. I believe in early intervention and this program is ideal for that.”
The officers, who spend about two hours a week every Thursday at the school, encouraged the STAAND participants to raise money for the 31 Division Cops Cycle for Kids fundraiser for Sick Kids.
“This program has helped the kids develop a great deal of self-satisfaction by contributing to something larger than themselves,” said Bria.
Through several fundraisers at the school in the last few months, the STAAND participants raised $1,150 that was presented to Sick Kids Foundation patient ambassadors Michael Sawras and Madison Scott.
“When I was in Grade Four, I was diagnosed with leukemia,” Scott told the students. “I spent countless hours at Sick Kids for almost two-and-a-half years, during which time I underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and was taking up to 53 pills a night that made me feel tired and sick. I was, however, lucky enough to have Sick Kids. I was treated amazingly and, because of that, I am cancer-free…The money that you guys raise goes to Sick Kids to help people like me get better.”
Almost 15 Grade 4-6 students are enrolled in the STAAND program.
“I have been a patient at Sick Kids, so I know what the money that we raised does,” said Grade Six student Duran Ramlall. “I am so glad to be part of this program because it has also helped me to learn more about having patience and teach others not to bully. I enjoy working with the police who are friendly and always nice. I don’t feel any tension when they are around.”
The officers used their own resources to buy gifts for the students last Christmas, and they plan to do the same to take them to Wonderland next month, just before the school year ends.
Impressed with the program, the Toronto Catholic District School Board recently announced the students in the STAND program and the 31 Division CRU officers will be the recipients of an Exemplary & Innovative Award.
“This program can be replicated in other schools across the City of Toronto, helping to build positive relationships with the Toronto Police Service,” added Bria. “Sergeant Nei and his team are to be commended for the great work they have done with our young people. Pro-social behaviour has improved, leading to a decline in physical conflicts outside the school yard.”