The RCMP now offers a new way for police officers and teachers across Canada to engage students on important issues, including bullying, online safety, impaired driving and drug misuse.
RCMPTalks, launched in 2019, are live sessions where classrooms of students are connected to each other virtually to discuss a particular topic.
It's sometimes hard to keep high school students engaged about what you're talking about, but if it's something that affects them, they will care," says Cst. Sarah Pennoyer, a community policing officer with the Cumberland County district RCMP in Nova Scotia.
Pennoyer, like other community officers, frequently visits schools and public playgrounds to interact with youth and design programs that increase community engagement and promote crime prevention.
She says RCMPTalks is especially valuable for those in small rural schools, as they can get involved with others across the country and teach important lessons in the process.
They get a speaker they may not have been exposed to otherwise. In rural Nova Scotia, a speaker may not come down to Advocate or Northport," says Pennoyer, referencing two small communities in Cumberland county.
Organizing the live virtual talks with schools from around Canada also gives students a chance to share similar experiences.
Sometimes, as a young Canadian you can be isolated in your area," says Kyle Barber, acting manager for the RCMP's National Youth Services, which organizes the talks. "
We're helping students have dialogue and feel a sense of community across the country."
Finding the right fit
A single RCMPTalks session simultaneously connects six classrooms in different schools across Canada, where guest speakers provide an opportunity for dialogue with students on age-appropriate topics. For example, younger students might hear about online safety while older students learn about impaired driving.
We like to search for [a speaker] who can bring a more personal perspective and has a story about how it affected them," says Alison McIntomny, a youth policy analyst with National Youth Services. She says speakers can include police officers, community advocates, or experts on the issues discussed.
After the presentation, each class works with their teacher to create a social awareness project — anything from a poster to a play — to share with the other participating classes during a second video conference.
In 2021, a second session was added to increase engagement with the young participants.
Last year, we found that by the second half of the school year, student participation in the classroom waned. Zoom fatigue was an issue," says Barber. "
We added a second session to encourage greater participation, answer questions and provide follow up."