School may be out for the summer but that's not stopping one group of students from learning valuable lessons. AISD Police and APD are teaming up for an anti-gang youth camp to help rising fifth graders make good decisions.
The camp helps students set goals, exercise and learn about community service. Their counselors happen to be out of uniform police officers from both departments.
"We educate them about the consequences of joining a gang," said APD Patrol Officer Bonnie Caudill.
The camp is a reward for the students who finished G.R.E.A.T. or the gang resistance education and training program during the school year.
"I think this program helps provide them with alternative options and skills to avoid situations that may put them in the back seat of a police car and that's the last thing we want," said AISD Police Sergeant Travis Pickford. Pickford says the program also focuses on the issue of school bullies.
Both departments take part in the joint juvenile gang unit. G.R.E.A.T. puts uniformed officers in classrooms during the school year in fourth and sixth grades.
"It's shown fourth graders we are still able to have an impact on them when it comes to making those decisions about not joining a gang," said Caudill. "There's a need for the program. I can tell you in every high school and middle school in AISD there's been some type of gang activity how involved or limited well it's different for every school," added Caudill.
While the students are having fun at camp they are listening to the message.
"If you say no that's good. You have to stay out of gangs because it could end your future," said Casey Maruri, 10.
"If you join a gang it will show you're a bad person and you're saying I don't like this real world," said Kenneth Johnson, 9. For Johnson, the camp may mean even more. One day he'd like to become a police officer.
"Because they bring gang members and other bad guys to justice. They talk it out and try to solve the problem," said Johnson.
For both Casey and Kenneth they say this is the best camp and they don't want it to end.
Officers hope the bonds they're building with the students make the schools and the streets safer.
Donations make the camp free for all of the students. Organizers say for many of the children it's the only camp they'll get to go to all summer. Last week a camp was held for students who live in South Austin.