NEW BEDFORD- Community activist John Buddy Andrade hosted a community meeting at the Alfred J. Gomes School on Tuesday night. The meeting focused on in and out of school solutions to deter New Bedford children from crime, drugs, and other criminal activity.

The meeting was an open discussion between community leaders and guests representing various city departments who collaborated on ways to ensure the safety of city children on the way to and from school. Superintendent Dr. Pia Durkin, Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro, and New Bedford Police Officers spoke directly to those in attendance about what they’re doing to keep kids safe.

School Superintendent Dr. Pia Durkin says a major problem has been the attendance of children in New Bedford. Durkin says that missed school days have a noticeable effect on grades and how the kids dedicate their time, especially with the younger ages.

“Tardiness is becoming an increasing problem.” Durkin said. “Were finding it’s a family issue. Its not that the little ones don’t want to go to school, they just need to get out and brought there. Little ones who miss four or five weeks of school are really behind the 8-ball,” she said.

City Councilor Brian Gomes attended the meeting and brought up the idea of dedicating a truancy officer to pick up kids across the city caught skipping class and to bring them back to school. Police Chief Cordeiro informed Gomes and the rest of the meeting that it’s not that easy nowadays.

“The laws have changed with how to handle kids skipping school, and the same thing with runaways. Years ago we could go right up and arrest a runaway but now it doesn’t allow us to,” explained Cordeiro. “The reality is we can’t physically restrain them or hold them. Were not even supposed to bring them to the police station anymore if the kid is a runaway. We’re only allowed to try to coarse them into the car to be dropped off at school.”

Those attending recognized that its not just getting the kids to school, but also keeping them productive and safe once the final bell rings. This includes after school programs as well as summer programs. Superintendent Durkin says that after school programs need to fit the interests of kids to be effective.

“We found that our summer programs were not as effective as they should’ve been because we couldn’t get the kids to come in. Were being as creative as we can and we’ve realized that we need to go where the kids are, not just dragging the kids into the school.”

This was the first of many meeting throughout the school year according to organizer John ‘Buddy” Andrade. The collaboration between the community and school and police officials as to the issues which need the most attention was the main goal of the Tuesday night meeting. Andrade says that as time goes on the meetings will be getting more in depth. He also is asking for more parents and community members to show up from the next meeting, which will be announced by Andrade himself.

The meeting also discussed a nighttime basketball program that aims to keep city youth busy playing sports in a safe environment. Andrade organized the program and says that it needs more volunteers and donations for it to function.