Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman, Tamaqua and Rush Township police officers, and officers from other police departments held the "Shield 7" program for Tamaqua and St. Jerome Regional School seventh-grade students in the middle school gym. This is the third year of the program and 11 of the 12 school districts in the county are currently participating in the program.
The "Shield 7" program is a proactive approach addressing decision-making issues pertinent to youth in the county.
The program, which is designed and implemented by Goodman, Chief Jeffrey Walcott of Schuylkill Haven and other members of local police departments, is aimed at stressing to seventh-grade students the important choices they make when presented with realistic scenarios.
The name "Shield 7" is a way for law enforcement to interact with seventh graders and stress to students the importance of choices that they will be making in their lives. The main theme of the program is that "Choices Count" and the program focuses on three main issues that seventh graders are now facing or will face in the upcoming years. It addresses bullying, alcohol and/or drug use and "sexting," where students transmit sexually explicit photos over their cell phones or via other electronic device. Last year, a law was passed in Pennsylvania changing sexting from a misdemeanor offense to a felony offense.
The Shield 7 team also warns seventh graders about the dangers of bath salts and the dangerous consequences of using bath salts. The Schuylkill County District Attorney's Office is moving forward with an injunction to stop the sale of bath salts in Schuylkill County.
Goodman stated that law enforcement wants to avoid the potential tragedies that can happen if students make poor choices in any of these important issues that they will be facing in the next couple of years.
Besides listening to an educational talk from Goodman about drugs and alcohol, sexting and bullying, the students were able to enjoy many activities that promote teamwork and decision-making skills.
The program consists of various guest speakers who talk to kids about the use of drugs and alcohol and warns students that they will most likely be confronted by someone who tries to entice them to use drugs and/or alcohol.
Law enforcement is being proactive by going to the schools and teaching students about the potential dangers of the Internet and "sexting" so that they know that their cell phones and computers are not toys and that they are using them the way they were intended to be used.
If students use their cell phones and computer appropriately, then the district attorney's office and law enforcement won't be put in a situation where they have to charge students with crimes which can affect them for the rest of their lives.
In 2009, the "Shield 7" program was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and almost all of the school districts in the county participated in the program.
This year, the program is funded by Schuylkill County District Attorney Goodman's Forfeiture Account.
DA Goodman stated that it is important that they use this money to give back to the community and to educate children about important decisions they have to face and then warn them of the consequences if they make poor decisions.
The agencies participating in the "Shield 7" County Program are local police departments, Schuylkill County District Attorney's Office, the Schuylkill County Sheriff's Office, and the Schuylkill County Juvenile Probation Office.