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Mentor program puts firefighters on GISD campuses

Shouts, shrieks, and laughter greeted the six firefighters when they arrived on the playground at Ford Elementary during recess. A few children had spotted the firefighters and raced toward them, alerting their classmates to the visitors’ presence. Within minutes, a swarm of children surrounded the firefighters.

“Chase us! Chase us! Chase us!” the children chanted.

“We’re doing something different today,” one of the firefighters said, attempting to be heard over the happy uproar as the volunteers handed out wristbands, erasers, and stickers with illustrations about fire safety. The kids seemed elated by the treats and soon forgot about playing tag.

The firefighters have been a familiar sight at Ford and the other elementary schools around Georgetown since January, when eighty-eight of them began mentoring after participating in Georgetown Independent School District mentor trainings offered by Laura Antoine, the director of the GISD Mentor Program & Development. The GISD Mentor Program is geared toward getting the community involved in schools and helping children.

“The mentor trainings were very intensive about how to build meaningful and rewarding relationships with children,” Laura says. “Through mentoring activities with our children, the firefighter mentors will be discussing what good choices look like, fire safety, and helping kids understand that they have options and value.”

Groups of firefighters serve on a rotating schedule so that some firefighters are present at the schools almost every day. Each firefighter volunteers only once or twice a month so as to not take away from other important duties. When on campus, the firefighters often visit with the children in the cafeteria and then either read to them in the library or play with them during recess. They’ve also given the children tours of the fire truck and talked about fire safety plans for home and for school.

Laura and Lieutenant Jonathan Gilliam worked with Battalion Chief Ray Cummings to start the program. Jonathan helps coordinate the firefighter mentors with GISD.

Lieutenant Jonathan Gilliam

Lieutenant Jonathan Gilliam

“We come into the schools every October to teach about fire safety, but I wanted to get in more frequently,” Jonathan says. “This gets us into the school throughout the year, and the kids get to know us. We build that bond together.”

Within just a few months, the firefighters had built such a rapport with the children that some kids became comfortable enough to reveal troublesome behaviors, such as using matches and lighters to burn things. Jonathan then met one-on-one with those kids and helped them take steps to change such behaviors. Later, he followed up on their progress.

Laura is working with Georgetown Police Department to set up a similar program.

“When parents see authority figures on campus, it makes them feel safe,” Ford Elementary Principal Donna Wallace says. “In the long run, it will bring about a respect in the kids. If anything is ever wrong, they won’t run away from authority figures in fear, but they [will] run toward them because they’ve built trust.”

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