In recent years, school safety has taken a more prominent place in the national conversation, and states and municipalities are turning to a variety of resources to find the best way to approach the issue.
In Michigan, they’ve found that the T.E.A.M. approach works well – and it has for the past 20 years.
T.E.A.M., or the Teaching, Educating, and Mentoring School Liaison Program, is a school-based “law related” education program taught by specially trained law enforcement officers. T.E.A.M. is a proactive effort to make schools and communities safer, promote responsible citizenship and encourage positive character traits. The program can be tailored to something as brief as one session on an area of particular need for a school or expanded to a longer series of sessions on a variety of topics.
Sgt. Martin Miller of the Michigan State Police Grants and Community Services Division, who oversees T.E.A.M., says MSP considered using one of several established school safety curricula back in the late 1990s, but a desire to come up with a new approach led to the 1998 creation of T.E.A.M.
“We wanted to have a program that would be very interactive to help us build community and develop citizenship and positive character traits in our young people. We wanted it to focus on more than just drug and alcohol prevention, and we wanted to present scenarios that would let the kids make their own decisions,” Miller says.
During 20 years of T.E.A.M., community perceptions of law enforcement have cycled up and down, he says. Prior to 9/11 officers had a mixed reputation; after 9/11 police and firefighters became heroes; at present, perceptions have once again become mixed. Throughout, T.E.A.M. has helped Michigan students understand that citizens and law enforcement are on the same “team,” Miller says, and “it’s been a great program during all of the ups and downs. Kids know they can turn to us and feel connected to us. When we meet their parents, they say, ‘my child talks about you all the time’ and they feel connected to us too. It’s a way to build a relationship with the whole community. The school administrators know they can call on you if they’re having an issue. I personally saw it when I was an instructor. It helped us build relationships in communities that were unfamiliar with the services of the Michigan State Police.”
To be certified as a T.E.A.M. instructor, officers participate in a four-day training to learn how to teach the curriculum. MSP trainers work with not only fellow troopers, but also with sworn officers from municipal police departments and sheriff’s deputies – and even some police officers from other states, such as Pennsylvania.
Miller added, “In some of our major metropolitan areas, schools have school resource officers, and T.E.A.M. training gives them an additional tool they can use in performing their jobs. In more rural areas, particularly in the Upper Peninsula, not many schools have SROs , and T.E.A.M. gives these troopers and officers an opportunity to reach out to schools and communities they may not otherwise have contact with on a regular basis.”
Whatever the topic, a key characteristic of T.E.A.M. instruction is the use of interactive scenarios and Miller says the students always lead the discussion rather than the instructor giving a lecture. For example, when working with elementary students, a scenario may start with the officer asking the students what they would do if they were approached by a stranger asking for help finding a lost puppy. Sometimes a student says, “This happened to me” or “I heard this happened to a friend,” which leads the discussion in a different direction.
Elementary school lessons last 30 minutes and middle/high school sessions last 45 minutes or even longer if the school requests it. Although the interactive approach never changes, T.E.A.M.’s content does.
“When we started the program, social media wasn’t even in play, and now we have a whole segment about it,” Miller adds. “Bullying has been part of the curriculum since the beginning, but it’s at a peak now and we focus an entire segment on how to address bullying and how to get along with other students. We’ve always started drug education at a young age, but now we look at the opioid epidemic, especially at the high school level. Sometimes athletes are prescribed opioids following an injury, and we teach them why its use is regulated and how it can become a problem. We constantly try to keep up with the times.”
For more information on T.E.A.M., contact Sgt. Martin Miller at MillerM36@michigan.gov.