Local schools welcome Resource Officer

Daily American Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2007 12:48 AM EDT

“Good morning,” Somerset Borough Police Officer Charlie Santa greeted students arriving at Maple Ridge elementary Wednesday morning. Local schools welcome Resource Officer“Give me five!” Children bumped fists with him. “Do you have a smile for me?” he said. “Get in there are learn something!”

Some children exchanged greetings, others were too shy. One informed him it was his birthday, and Santa wished him a happy day.
This is the first year for the student resource officer program in the Somerset Area School District. Santa starts at the junior and senior high school a little after 7 a.m., walking through halls.

“I let people know I’m here,” he said. “I check in the offices to see if there’s anything I need to know. I say hi to the kids and let them know I’m here. It’s for prevention, if need be, and also to make them feel more secure when they’re in the building.”

He alternates visits to Maple Ridge, Sipesville and Friedens elementary schools to greet children. On days he’s at the start of one school, he also walks through the halls of the others. During the walk through, he’ll admire the students’ work posted in halls and greet students and staff.

At the request of the school nurse, he goes to the health classes to talk about marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. He is also the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer. When he began that duty, he did a program for seventh and ninth grades. Now that is only for seventh grade.

Santa does a mentoring program for students who need some guidance in Eagle View intermediate school and in the junior high school.

“I’ll pull kids out once a week and talk for maybe 15 or 20 minutes,” he said. “They’ve really embraced that. During recess, if I see kids outside, I wave, or I go in to the cafeteria and talk with them. I’m not always there any specific time, so if somebody is casing the school, he won’t know when I’m going to be there.”

His presence has not gone unnoticed.

“The mentoring is wonderful,” Eagle View Principal Erick Fish said. “He provides valuable guidance for troubled students.”

Superintendent Dr. David Pastrick said Santa also helps by asking parents not to park in certain areas, which helps with traffic congestion, and serves on the school safety committee.

“He’s a welcome addition to the district,” Pastrick said.

Small children aren’t used to seeing police officers, Santa said, especially those who don’t live in the borough.

“The biggest response at first was from the kids in Sipesville and Friedens,” he said. “Their eyes got really big, and one nudged another and said, ‘There’s a cop!’ That struck home with me. It’s what it’s all about: kids getting use to seeing policemen and not being afraid. Maybe they’ll feel safer and they’ll feel more like learning.”

Senior high Principal Mark Gross said Santa has assisted in several situations at the high school.

“The impact at our level was absolutely immediate,” he said. “In the past, when we’ve called the police, we’ve had to notify the parents. Since he’s serving as a school employee, we can do it within the context of the school. It’s been very good.”

Santa tells the older students in the DARE program that they are now part of his family — they have a crazy uncle. But he explains to them if they get into trouble, he’ll no longer be a friendly uncle.

“The kids I started with in DARE are now seniors,” he said. “Some have grown two feet taller since I first had them. High school kids in groups don’t acknowledge me — peer pressure — but when I see them alone, then they give me a big smile and say hi.”

(Vicki Rock can be reached at vickir@dailyamerican.com.)

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