A program connecting police officers with students in the classroom, called GREAT, has been going strong in La Crosse schools for decades, but changes this year for the local program have implications on a national scale.
GREAT stands for Gang Resistance Education and Training, and it is meant to help kids make good decisions.
"Working with the kids is just so much fun,” La Crosse police Officer Kurt Weaver said.
Teaching a fourth-grade class at Emerson Elementary is not Officer Weaver's everyday job duty, but he doesn't mind the change of scenery.
"On patrol, it's a lot of negatives,” he said. "For this I get a lot of positives."
It's kept him coming back to the classroom every year for the past 15 years, helping fourth-graders learn the skills to make safe decisions.
We study about being a great citizen,” Anna Crain, a student taking the course, said.
"I think it helps with us not bullying,” student Bradley Check said.
Weaver and officers at the La Crosse Police Department know the GREAT program well. So well, in fact, the department was one of four to organize GREAT training sessions in the country, meaning officers from around the country would travel to La Crosse to learn how to teach GREAT, up until this year.
"That was funded by the federal government. Unfortunately, they took away funding, so we lost that,” Weaver said. “It was a big deal for La Crosse. We had some estimates of hundreds of thousands of dollars of economic impact."
Weaver also has worries back inside the classroom.
"(The workbook) is part of the federal funding, so hopefully that's still covered. That could be an issue down the road, losing things like this,” he said.
And his concerns extend nationwide.
“Just less officers will be trained every year,” Weaver said. “If there are less officers being trained, that means there's less officers out teaching the program.”
He said that’s not a good thing, especially now.
"A big thing nowadays that's very important is just seeing a police officer as a friend. There's been a lot of negative press, unfortunately, saying we're enemies,” Weaver said.
In his fourth-grade classroom at Emerson, the program is doing its job.
"It's really amazing,” Anna said. “I've never seen a police officer in person."
"It's really cool just to meet a police officer that you can actually see and talk to,” Bradley said.
Weaver said all fourth-graders at La Crosse elementary schools, public and private, are taking six 45-minute GREAT lessons this school year.