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From drugs to bullying, Victoria deputies shift the focus on preventative programs in schools

By Carolina Astrain
Oct. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.

Jordan Hooker shakes hands with Sheriff Deputy Randell Branecky as he receives his diploma, an ID necklace and wristband.

The scars on his face reveal a violent past that Deputy Kenneth Wells hopes he can teach students to avoid in their futures.

For the past five years, Wells has brought the Gang Resistance Education And Training program to Victoria school district's elementary classrooms to show kids that violence isn't always the answer.

This past year, the program received $1,500 in donations from local businesses.

Before the district adopted the G.R.E.A.T. program, crime prevention deputies from the Victoria County Sheriff's Office used the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to steer kids away from early drug use.

"After doing some research on the G.R.E.A.T. program, I realized it would be more effective in our schools," Wells said.

The deputy credited the program's focus on bullying prevention and non-violent confrontation approach as a major factor on the transition from D.A.R.E. to G.R.E.A.T.

"Kids are more likely to be bullied than approached with drug use at the elementary level," Wells said.

The program serves students at 16 elementary schools within VISD as well as private schools in the county.

Victoria resident Kimberly Bagnall came to see her daughter's graduation.

"She talks about it a lot at home," said the mother as her eyes lit up with pride. "She's learned how to walk away from confrontation."

Before the ceremony started, Wells asked the 66 fourth-graders to remove their jackets.

Then they flapped their fingers from below their chins, greeting the parents who had come to watch.

After introductions, K-9 investigator Randall Branecky summoned his Labrador, Rumble, to the floor.

The black Labrador let out a walloping series of barks.

"He can detect five specific odors," including marijuana, cocaine and meth, Branecky explained.

Regaining his composure, Rumble stood still, before galloping toward a box at the end of the cafeteria aisle full of what appeared to be illegal substances.

After the dog show and a video clip, Andrea Ruby, 9, read from her gang awareness essay.

"It was scary reading it out loud to everyone," Andrea said. "But it felt good after it was over."

Laeunna Dean, 9, dropped a stick of lipgloss on her way to receive her diploma.

"This program means a lot to me," Laeunna said. "Without it, I wouldn't know what to do, or how to stand up for myself."

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