Most kids don’t like going back to school. It means summer is over and they have to do homework again.
But the back-to-school season also marks a return to what can be a difficult environment, especially for teenagers navigating an increasing share of adult issues.
About 500 students attended an event Saturday sponsored by the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project where volunteers, social service workers and law enforcement personnel helped them chart their way as they returned to school.
In addition to fun events like crafts, tug-of-war and an obstacle course, the students attending the event got school supplies and information about various resources.
Karelia Schmitz, BRAVE’s public information officer, said one goal was to raise awareness of services available at the Family and Youth Service Center, where BRAVE is housed, such as helping truant students by training them for a trade or to get their GED.
BRAVE, which works to decrease youth violence, is one of several organizations with offices on the campus of the old State School for the Blind on Government Street. Now known as FYSC, it is a “one-stop shop” for resources for at-risk youth, Schmitz said.
“If they’re struggling with things financially or need counseling services or substance abuse services at FYSC, it’s a lot easier to inform them on the forefront of those things,” she said.
FYSC’s breezeways on Saturday were packed with stations where children made crafts, and their families learned about various social services that are available. Attendees who pre-registered picked up backpacks full of school supplies.
“We got folders, crayons, pencils, pens,” said Tanyina Brown, 14.
She and Aliseya Aaron, 16, also discovered there were a lot of people there to help, including life coaches, insurance companies and local police.
“I think it’s helpful for the kids,” Aliseya said.
Inside an auditorium, teenagers learned about dealing with problems they may face as they grow older, including how to handle encounters with law enforcement.
“You may think they’re automatically coming to size you up and that’s not the case, but the interaction at that point is already off,” said Aishala Burgess, an assistant district attorney who handles juvenile cases.
Capt. Rodney Walker, who oversees the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office Special Community Anti-Crime Team and is BRAVE’s 70802 project director, told the teens about a time when he asked four men loitering in a parking complex to leave. Three of them left, but the fourth stayed, telling Walker he did not like the police.
“It hurt my feelings,” Walker said. “I’ve got feelings, y’all. Don’t think because we’re in uniform means we don’t have feelings.”
Walker asked the audience if there was anything he should have done differently in the parking complex scenario, but no one raised their hand. He said he realizes people can be uncomfortable around police, but “the number one thing to do is treat people how you want to be treated.”
The session helped kids learn about important issues, said Clara Joseph, who brought her granddaughter, Kya Bolden, 12, and a coworker’s son, Darrion Coleman, 13.
“Many times ... we don’t have the type of environment where (children) can speak out and let you know what their concerns are, and that’s what they did in there,” she said.
Darrion, who attends Brookstown Middle Magnet Academy, said he liked talking to the police officers, but also enjoyed a session about bullying.
“Speak up for yourself and never discourage yourself,” he said.