PORTLAND, Ore (KOIN 6) — With a police escort, and wearing bright orange vests that read “Graffiti removal volunteer,” sixth graders from George Middle School walked about 5 minutes from their school to a building that had been plagued by graffiti.
The students, including 12 year old Derrick Serrano, are part of the middle school’s Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T) graduating class.
“It’s a good program,” Serrano said.
Police said G.R.E.A.T is an effective gang and violence prevention program built around school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom courses.
“It helps them put a face with an officer,” Portland police officer Heather Shaw said.
Shaw, a member of the bureau’s Youth Services Division, is also a school resource officer.
She said at George Middle School, every sixth grader goes through the program.
The program focuses on life skills, goal setting and problem solving, Shaw said.
“It helps them to resolve conflict with each other before it gets out of hand,” she said.
On Thursday, all four G.R.E.A.T instructors were at George Middle School to help the students with their community service project.
From the road, the beige building in the 7600 block of North Columbia Boulevard stood as an eye sore to community members. Vandals had tagged more than 400 feet of the wall. Police said some the tagging may have been gang related.
The students, including Serrano, made it their goal this year upon G.R.E.A.T graduation to paint over the graffiti.
With help from the city’s Graffiti Abatement Program, the students used recycled latex paint to cover up the vandalism.
It was a clear message to the taggers that they are not welcomed, Serrano said.
“People think of this school as one of the schools that a lot of bad stuff happens, but we try to make it seem as clean and safe as possible.”
Their work, city officials said, will go a long way in keeping the community safer.