The city of Fontana decided earlier this decade that it was time to tackle juvenile delinquency. Through a partnership between the city, the Fontana Police Department (FPD) and Fontana Unified School District (FUSD) the Fontana Leadership Program (FLIP) was born to teach students academic improvement skills as well as strategies to deal with real life issues. The program in its first academic year reached more than 700 students at 14 middle and high schools and has helped significantly reduce disruptive behavior.

Identifying the Problem

Some of Fontana’s young resident’s frequently disrupted school, which not only strained the district’s disciplinary resources but was evidence of the fact that these students failed to thrive academically. This led to an increase in calls to FPD.

Based on the shared concerns of school and police officials, FUSD Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks and Fontana Police Chief Rodney Jones held discussions regarding delinquent behavior and strategies to promote educational success. These conversations developed into strategic planning sessions and grew in scope to include key advisors and planners from both the school district and police department. The group worked collaboratively to identify obstacles which most frequently prevented children from not only thriving in school, but also contributed to additional challenges in the transition to adulthood.

The nine identified primary casual factors are:

  1. Criminal street gang influence;
  2. Lack of self-control;
  3. General quality of life issues;
  4. Inability to peacefully resolve conflicts;
  5. Personal safety concerns;
  6. Poor self-esteem;
  7. Drugs and alcohol;
  8. Domestic violence; and
  9. Truancy.

A focus group next examined possible resources to most effectively create long-term changes. Students who had been suspended multiple times became the model’s target audience. The group concluded that chronic violators participating in the intervention program would decrease the incidents of suspensions, expulsions and drop-outs. Then it began researching other school intervention models, but found that most of them primarily focused on academics and lacked strategies to install lasting discipline. Boot camp programs were effective in addressing discipline issues but did little to improve academics and offered almost nothing in terms of teaching positive life skills. None of the assessed programs provided an approach which addressed the complete child.

A Solution Called FLIP

Based on research results, the focus group created FLIP, a program built on responsibility, education, attitude, compassion, and teamwork. Its motto is “Building a shared vision through a FLIP in attitude and behavior.”

The focus group also created policies and procedures addressing application requirements, selection process, parent orientation, dress code, education goals, physical training, dismissal from the program, participant’s personal property searches, random drug screening, attitude and behavior, attendance, community service, daily reporting procedures, mentoring, post-graduation leadership expectations, and more.

FLIP is a 16-week (eight hours per week) program with classes held at FUSD on consecutive Saturdays. Participants also receive regular visits from the FLIP officers at school and at home. FLIP classroom topics include violence prevention, drug and alcohol resistance, ethics, leadership skill development, public speaking, teamwork, and other related fields.

Students must be referred to the program by school officials, police department officials or ordered into the program by a probation officer or juvenile judge. Application packages are screened and suitable applicants are assigned a program start date. Parents of FLIP students must attend a parent orientation session.

Once students have successfully completed the program, they earn 5.0 elective credits towards graduation and participate in a formal graduation ceremony.

The program was designed to be replicated in other communities. FLIP coordinators worked with the neighboring city of Rialto (population 99,171) and its police department to create a similar program. All policies, procedures, and lesson plans were shared in a spirit of cooperation.

With more than 700 students exposed, the city is already noticing a significant drop in disciplinary record analysis participants and an improvement in the attitudes and behaviors.

The program has been detailed in various local media outlets and received outstanding program awards from several public safety and school organizations. The FLIP program was recently awarded the prestigious IACP/Motorola Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement in 2012.

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This story is part of an ongoing series of featuring Helen Putnam Award entries. These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Fontana’s youth Leadership Program was submitted in 2013 for the Public Safety award category.