Police Activity Leagues (PAL) Helped by SLAB
Jocelyn Levine & Joey Hoffman, The Frederick County Service-Learning Advisory Board (SLAB), Frederick County, JoeyMom@aol.com, 301-293-2342
PAL, which stands for Police Activity League, is an organization that provides a safe and positive place for children 18 and under to go after school. PAL Programs are held at a local recreational facility. At PAL, specially trained police officers and other volunteers dedicate themselves to helping and entertaining youth by assisting them with homework, providing them with after school snacks, and engaging them in recreational activities. In 2004-05, SLAB members worked with the PAL officers, by serving as tutors, mentors, and activity organizers.
Best Practice 1: Meet a recognized need in the community
The PAL Program provides a place where youth can safely and constructively spend time. The need for PAL Centers was recognized when the National Center on Juvenile Justice reported that the peak hours for violent juvenile crime are 3 PM to 9 PM and that fifty percent of all violent juvenile crime is committed during this six-hour period. PAL Centers are open during these peak hours when children are most vulnerable. No child has to pay to be a part of the program. The children are helped because they are provided with the necessary items and environment to maintain a healthy lifestyle and are under the guidance and protection of volunteers and officers during the absence of their guardians. The police officers are also given an opportunity to form a positive relationship with the youth and the community.
SLAB members support the PAL Program by serving as tutors and helping the participants with homework when necessary. SLAB members lead and help out with arts and crafts activities. They serve as mentors for the youth and act as positive role models as they forge relationships with participants. Often SLAB members pitch in to buy hygiene-related items and food for PAL participants who cannot afford those items. PAL also sets up teams and tournaments for several sports for participants. The police officers who run PAL provide a safe environment and serve as a symbol of security as they supervise and interact with the children.
Best Practice 2: Achieve curricular objectives through service-learning
This project has enhanced student academic learning by serving as an opportunity for the SLAB student volunteers to apply the academic skills theyâ€™ve learned in school. They get the chance to play the role of teacher and help the kids with school material from different classes, thus strengthening and broadening their skills in various school subjects. For example, the SLAB students utilize their math skills when helping the children with their math homework, their English skills when helping children read, write, and spell, their organizational skills, leadership skills, and decision-making skills when working with children on all homework, in sports, and in planning and carrying out special activities. The SLAB tutors have learned how to explain concepts in a way that the children can understand, and that, in turn, strengthens the SLAB membersâ€™ grasp of their own academic knowledge.
In addition, SLAB members were able to infuse service-learning into the PAL Program for participants by promoting the Big Sweep within the center. PAL participants formed two groups which collected trash from the sides of the streets in their neighborhood during the Big Sweep project on National Youth Service Day. The Big Sweep project helped to reinforce the practices of keeping a clean environment and the importance of recycling and not littering.
Best Practice 3: Reflect throughout the service-learning experience
Throughout the project, SLAB students got a chance to reflect and take pride in the roles they were playing. They saw the difference they made in the PAL participants lives and noticed the growth in self-esteem of each child. Also, they noticed how the childrenâ€™s interactions with their SLAB buddies enhanced their social skills and maturity level. SLAB students discussed the progress being made by the youth in the PAL Program. Before and after volunteering at PAL, SLAB members reflected on the strategies they were using with their â€œpalsâ€ during tutoring and recreational times. At regular SLAB meetings, they shared their ideas, and they kept a reflection book where they wrote their thoughts.
Best Practice 4: Develop student responsibility
The SLAB students took on roles of leadership by organizing and participating in activities for the youth. In addition, they were given an opportunity to help the children during homework clubs and to coach the various PAL sponsored sports teams. As a result, SLAB students had to make decisions, communicate well, lead others, and consistently attend the after-school program. Two SLAB members took the lead for this project, reminding the other high school students of their commitment, ensuring that materials were procured when needed, and assisting the police officers with all aspects of the program. The SLAB leaders worked with a Volunteer Frederick leader to plan and implement the Big Sweep project with the PAL youth.
Best Practice 5: Establish community partnerships
During this project, SLAB members worked with PAL, which is a nonprofit organization. As SLAB engaged in special projects with the PAL youth, extra funds and resources were required, so SLAB created partnerships with grocery stores and other businesses in the community, depending on the needs of the projects. SLAB also had an ongoing partnership with the Frederick Optimist Club that helped to pay for some of the special activities initiated by SLAB for the PAL Program. SLAB also worked with Volunteer Frederick to plan and carry out of several holiday activities, as well as the National Youth Service Day project, the Big Sweep.
Best Practice 6: Plan ahead for service-learning
SLAB prepared for this project by conducting fundraisers that provided enough money to hold events for PAL youth. SLAB picked projects that they thought would be fun, educational, and beneficial. The fundraisers also helped to provide various items that were necessary in order to make the youth as comfortable, entertained, and healthy as possible.
An officer from the PAL Program came to one of the regular SLAB meetings and presented background on the program and explained how SLAB could be involved. He passed out information that was shared with parents and then SLAB members agreed to volunteer on a regular basis with this program. Two SLAB students agreed to lead this project, and they decided what their roles would be as leaders. SLAB members were given additional training on the first day at the PAL center before they began working with the children.
Best Practice 7: Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service
In addition to the various leadership skills that the volunteers developed through this program, there was also a big social aspect to the program. Both the high school volunteers and the youth at the PAL center grew emotionally by interacting with each other and developing an appreciation for the lifestyles of different ethnic groups, cultures, and social classes. Part of the training for this project prepared the SLAB students to better understand and appreciate people from various backgrounds. A Poverty Simulation project that was held the previous year for SLAB gave SLAB students greater sensitivity to children who may live in low income situations. That training helped to make SLAB members better tutors and mentors in the PAL Program. The members learned the importance of commitment and the value of one-to-one relationships by working with children in this project. SLAB members improved their methods for tutoring and learned some strategies for behavior management. They also developed great respect for the dedication of the police officers that spend their time at PAL Centers in an effort to prevent problems before they occur.