OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside Police Department began its Youth Partnership mentoring program for at risk teens March 1, without a van to transport students to the program site and field trips.
For now, the police academy van is temporarily being used to ensure teens can get to the program.
To support police efforts, on Feb. 28 City Council approved the application for a Neighborhood Reinvestment Program Grant. The requested grant amount of $50,000 allows the Police Department to purchase a 15-passenger van to transport students.
Oceanside Police Lt. Taurino Valdovinos said the 12-week Youth Partnership program aims to build character, reduce juvenile delinquency, lower recidivism and provide healthy alternatives to gangs, drug abuse, and a life trapped in the criminal justice system.
Valdovinos said the first session on personal responsibility went extremely well. A dodgeball game that included officers and teens broke the ice and established rapport.
Small group discussions on personal responsibility followed.
“Everybody was communicating with everyone,” Valdovinos said. “Boys and girls were really expressing their opinions and thoughts and saying outstanding things.”
Next week’s lesson is on ethics and values. Following lessons focus on mental strength, perseverance, education, courage, trustworthiness and discipline. Guest speakers are invited to share firsthand accounts that help bring the values lessons home.
Valdovinos said the classroom atmosphere is designed to be uplifting and positive. A strong focus of the program is building positive relationships between police officer mentors and teens. Officers serve as role models. Students are taught valuable life lessons, gain self-confidence and build a sense of hope for the future.
“The main goal is to build relationships with these young kids, to me that’s the most important part,” Valdovinos said.
The program also includes impactful field trips to California State University San Marcos, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office. The Beyond The Caution Tape tour at the County Medical Examiner’s Office includes the opportunity to observe a live autopsy.
At-risk teens who participate are recommended by teachers, youth program instructors, city neighborhood services staff and juvenile probation officers. To make sure the program is a good fit, the student and their parents are interviewed before students begin lessons.
Valdovinos said the idea for the Youth Partnership program began in 2016, followed by planning in 2017. The program aims to build long-term solutions by guiding teens to healthy choices that help them say no to the lure of drugs, gangs and other negative behaviors.
Group ratios of students to officer are kept small to create a safe, nurturing environment.
Healthy snacks and light sports are included to further positive choices and extend opportunities to bond.
After the 12-week session police officer mentors and teens will continue to keep in touch. Participating teens will have an opportunity to serve as peer leaders in future sessions.
The Oceanside program is modeled after the San Marcos Sheriff RESPECT Project, which was developed in 2014 by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
The San Marcos program lasts for 16 weeks and holds the same goal, which is to reduce teens negative choices by empowering teens with decision-making skills, encouragement and resources.
The desired outcome is for teens to make good decisions that improve the quality of life for them, their families and community.
The established San Marcos program has formed partnerships with local community groups, businesses and faith-based organizations to provide additional opportunities for teens.
Oceanside is also working to build community partnerships as it launches its program.