Saturday, January 28, 2012

Staring Down the Barrel of a Walkie Talkie

During the school year I teach Music and Movement classes to preschoolers with special needs in the Howard County Public School System. But last summer I traded my "Hot Potato" and "Hokey-Pokey" for a different tune altogether. As a Para Educator in Howard County's Comprehensive Summer School, my song went more like this:

“Hat off, headphones off, put your phone away. Hats off, headphones off, and pull…up…your…pants!”

My transition from Early Childhood to Adolescence was made possible by the supportive and knowledgeable Summer School team at Long Reach High School. At the heart of this team was the partnership of Rick Robb, CSS Principal, and Mr. Richard Ebb, Director of Security. They made sure that all of the Para Educators understood exactly why we were there:

The mission of the Howard County Public School System is to ensure excellence in teaching and learning so that each student will participate responsibly in a diverse and changing world.
Goal 1 - Each child regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability or socio-economic status, will meet the rigorous performance standards that have been established. All diploma-bound students will perform on or above grade level in all measured content areas.
Goal 2 - Each school will provide a safe and nurturing school environment that values our diversity and commonality.

Recognize it?  Those are the mission and goals of the Howard County School System.  Every employee on the Summer School staff was working to support those goals. I soon learned how important Goal 2 was in assuring the achievement of Goal 1. We worked in cooperation with Mr. Ebb and the School Resource Officer to make sure that the school buildings and grounds were a safe and nurturing environment.

Recently the school system and the Howard County Police Department have announced the introduction of a pilot program to station School Resource Officers in six middle schools. Some of the reactions I have been reading have been inflammatory and far from accurate.  Schools are not being turned into penitentiaries. Officers are not one step away from taking away students' civil liberties. School Resource Officers are not deployed merely to break up fights. 

This is what you need to know:

"A school resource officer mentors students, conducts instructional classes and handles disturbances and arrests." (

What does that mean in plain language?  It means that a full two-thirds of an SRO's job is devoted to communication. And that's where the walkie talkie comes in. While it may seem natural to focus on the officer's gun, it is the walkie talkie that best symbolizes the role the SRO fulfills within the school.

Officers build relationships with students, communicate with staff, reach out to parents and the greater community. School Resource Officers are working in middle schools in an effort to reach out to At-Risk students--as defined by attendance, referrals, and grades.  In some cases they are running after-school programs as well. (I didn't know that, either. Check out their website.)

Yes, enforcement is also a part of the job.  The officer, like everyone else in the school, is charged with helping to provide a safe and nurturing environment. Parents need to be able trust that their children are safe within the school, and protected from community issues that might spill into the school. Students learn best when they feel safe. We all do. 

A good way to describe how this really works within the schools is an anecdote about a high school student who declared he "hated cops."  "I don't like the way they look, don't like them hanging around. But Officer D., he's different.  He's alright."

So, now you know.  And please--will you just take your hat off and pull up your pants?  Thanks. 



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Al! Definitely an issue close to my heart as I evaluate Board of Ed. candidates.

  2. Ooh, we're going to have dueling posts. I have one expressing the opposite opinion in Patch coming up Monday. I see where you're coming from, but I have some major concerns about what it says to the communities where the cops are deployed in schools and the long-term impact on incarceration rates.

    1. Oh, I'm looking forward to reading that! A parent from one of the middle schools in the new SRO pilot spoke at the Board of Ed's public forum last week questioning why many of the schools chosen for that pilot are majority minority schools. I also read an article this week about a similar program in Chicago high schools. It seems to be a direct pipeline to the juvenile criminal justice system.

    2. I look forward to reading dinosaurmom's upcoming piece on this issue. I,too,read the article from Huffington Post--how similar are the two situations to be worthy of comparison? I would be interested to learn about how the SRO program has worked so far in Howard County, and also, how such programs, including ones at the Middle School level, are working in communities like ours.

      Additionally, while local institutions such as Howard County Government,the Police Department, as well as the Columbia Association have begun to embrace social media and community outreach, the Howard County School System is doing itself no favors by remaining distant from this kind of community engagement. Lisa, your recent comment about this topic on your own blog was spot on.

    3. I imagine there are a lot of significant differences between our program and Chicago's program, but the article made me realize how little I know about our program. While the few local articles I've read about SROs have brought up the "militarization" fear, knowing that the middle schools chosen to pilot this program are majority minority schools really raised my eyebrows. What are we trying to do? How will we know if we're successful? How will we know if we're causing harm? Do we have answers to these questions for the high school SRO program?

  3. really interesting conversation to follow!


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