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Students need to feel safe and be safe

Our schools and students are in trouble, and we must pull together to improve this environment.

Boomer Grandpa — Loren Else column sig
We are part of The Trust Project.

Many boomers were raised by a parent who was a war veteran. Some were disciplinarians. You learned to do what you were told – at home and school. Being a smart-aleck had consequences.

Looking back at my school years, I had some scraps, a fight or two, and was bullied in seventh grade. I had to endure because telling Dad was not the best option.

My principal in high school was tall, intimidating, yet approachable. He loved his students and had a kindness to him. He would excuse minor discrepancies but had a way of straightening out knuckleheads, and parents typically had his back.

Times evolve. Reports are that school violence in Rochester is escalating. A recent Post Bulletin story by Jordan Shearer titled, ‘Has anyone asked the students?’ was an eye-opener in a bad way. Examples of violence in our schools given in the story were alarming.

Our students need to feel safe and be safe. I still have a grandchild in public school. A few should not disrupt learning for the many. How did we get here? We all could list contributing factors, but that doesn’t help. Our schools and students are in trouble, and we must pull together to improve this environment.

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To my knowledge, our state is still looking at an $8 billion surplus. I imagine the public generally agrees that additional resources are needed in schools that focus on staffing, mental health, and improved safety. I am a proponent of the school resource officers (SROs) as additional resources.

With the trends of students feeling unsafe at school, these positions are critical components that assist in protecting, supporting, and caring for our learners. The article I mentioned earlier had quotes from Rochester Community Services Police Captain Jeff Stilwell.

I was also able to talk with Captain Stilwell. I found him open, optimistic, and with a passion for the work the SROs are doing in the Rochester schools. The positive interactions, problem-solving, and commitment to the kids by the SROs are infrequently reported.

Captain Stilwell discussed one mission of the SROs is to help keep kids in school. Every day they meet and greet students as they arrive, are available in the cafeterias, and constantly interact to build relationships and get to know the kids. They want to be seen as “another trusted adult.”

Rochester has been ahead of this curve for years, having an SRO presence in our high schools. I’d like to see more SRO presence in our middle schools. Currently, SROs are dressed in polo shirts and khaki pants to tone down their appearance. However, there must be no question about who they are. There are times uniforms will be worn.

COVID interrupted the rhythm of their work, including their constant presence, relationships and trust. A focus is now on rebuilding their essential presence.

I am not a school administrator, but we have a couple of issues here. One is to reduce student violence in our schools. Innovative programs continue to be in the works, such as “The Perspectives Project,” described in the Shearer story. Another recent story by Emily Cutts was “Restorative justice program helps build community.”

The other issue is to ensure our schools are safe from potential incidents we have seen across our country. Behind the scenes, work goes on daily in planning, training, and assessing threats.

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Captain Stilwell talked about the effort for a systems-wide approach to assist struggling students and get them support quickly. When the school day is over, there is still a need for food and shelter, or to navigate complex family issues.

The Rochester Police Department and others work to be a bridge to help in many ways. Without support, kindness, and direction, school problems become community problems.

SROs need to be present in our schools. They are the first line of defense for the safety of our students. With diverse law enforcement SROs, each with extensive counseling and mental health training, they will continue to be of great benefit.

Being a school resource officer and positively changing even one life can impact our community and, more importantly, that family. An individual may never forget that officer in a polo shirt who took some time to hear their story.

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Columnist Dan Conradt says passing Officer Duane each morning, I should have been aiming for the "thumbs up" sign, not the hand signal I normally received.
Columnist Loren Else says times might be changing, but the need for compassionate officers of the law remains.

Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at news@postbulletin.com .

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