The School District of Philadelphia is expanding their mentorship program, which pairs school police officers with middle school students.
District officials said on Thursday this initiative is a long-term strategy to reduce gun violence in the city.
“Mentoring is so important,” said Kevin Bethel, a retired Philadelphia Police officer and the District’s Chief of School Safety. “The evidence identifies… if we just have one adult with a child, we can change the trajectory of that child forever.”
The program is the district’s effort to equip students with the “life skills necessary for their futures.”
The district also said the program is meant to build intergenerational relationships between police and Black and Latino students, but any student can volunteer.
The expansion arrives amidst a city and nationwide call for police-free schools. The Philadelphia Student Union started a petition to remove police and resource officers from schools in 2020.
For Bethel, building mentorships is one step towards reconstructing, not removing, the roles of “school safety officers,” who are police, in schools.
“We are going through a reimagining and a re-envisioning of school safety. We are constructing a program built on restorative practices, not about law enforcement, not about locking kids up,” said Bethel.
The mentorship program, L.E.A.D., Leaders Encouraging Achievement and Development, launched in 2020 at E. W. Rhodes Middle School and Hamilton Disston Elementary School. Benjamin Comegys and Rudolph Blankenburg elementary schools have now been added to the list.
Currently 15 officers and 40 students participate in the program.