It was almost twenty years ago when Conway got their first Resource Officers in our schools. The concept was fairly new at the time, but it didn’t take long for us to figure out that it was a great thing for our staff and our students. We started with just two officers- one at the high school and one at the junior high. Having a police officer on hand for emergencies was very helpful. The officers also built relationships with the kids and the teachers. Soon two officers grew to three…then five, when we had at least one at each of our secondary schools.
Today, we have eight School Resource Officers in our 16 schools. This team of SRO’s are highly recognizable and one of our district’s greatest assets. I was excited to get to spend the day with the newest member of the team, Officer Larry Lute, to see what being a SRO is really like.
Officer Lute has almost 20 years of experience as a police officer, and lots of stories from his time on the streets. He has a passion to help young people and is thankful to now have this role and this chance to make an impact each day.
We started off our day at Simon Middle School, where he spends much of his time. Overall, there were many things about a SRO’s job that didn’t surprise me, like security, and a few things that did.
Officer Lute spends a lot of his time watching the school’s security cameras and reviewing footage from them. He told me what a good tool the cameras have been in helping the officers and administrators. Obviously, they can’t be everywhere at once, so if an incident occurs the cameras can sometimes be the best “witnesses.”
Our SRO’s join our Principals in doing morning duty (Officer Lute does bus duty each morning at Simon) and recess/lunch duty as well. They are a valuable extra set of eyes and ears for the hundreds of students as they enter and exit the building. But more than that, they are an extra person to greet the students and interact with them. I loved watching Officer Lute talk with the students. They discussed things like hunting and sports. Many of their eyes lit up when they saw him. They would wave or give him a fist bump or high five. He would ask them how their day was going or how things were going at home, how they were doing in a certain class, congratulate a student on making the basketball team, remind a student to “act right,” and more. Middle School is such a pivotal time for students, so it’s encouraging to see that he is making an impact.
One of the things that impressed (and surprised) me the most was watching Officer Lute interact with the special education students at his school. He has a very significant relationship with these kids and their teachers. He visits them in their classes each day, and knows each of them personally. He knows their interests and challenges. He knows how to help them. No, he is not a classroom teacher, but he is part of the “village” that makes their school experience a successful one. During my “Day in the Life” we greeted one of these students while he was working in his classroom. About a half hour later we were walking back down the hall and this student was in the hallway with one of the teachers; he was having a hard time in the classroom. He seemed very agitated and upset as he described to Officer Lute how he was feeling about the test he was supposed to take, because he was absent when he was supposed to learn the material.
“Do you have your vest? Where’s your vest?” Officer Lute asked. I saw the teacher nod in agreement, then they went to the student’s locker to try to find the vest. Minutes later they were putting him into a weighted vest. I have never seen this before, but it is a vest that you wear with pockets for adding different weights. This garment has been used with the student before (at Officer Lute’s suggestion) to help him calm down and feel safer in stressful situations. Something about the heaviness of the weights add an element of pressure to the nervous system and allow the body to relax against it. Police officers have also used these in the field. The student took a few more minutes to calm down and was then able to re-enter the classroom to start working on his exam.
The rapport Officer Lute had with this student and countless others during this day was undeniable. I could see how much he cared for the students. I could tell that his job doesn’t end when the school bell rings at the end of the day. He and the other SRO’s work high school ball games and other events for the safety and security of our students. They work to make themselves visible in our community, to be where our kids are.
Another part of the jobs of our SRO’s is to be ambassadors. When he’s not at Simon Middle School, Officer Lute is assigned to Theodore Jones and Florence Mattison Elementary Schools. Going to the elementary schools with him was like being with a rock star or other celebrity. When he walks down the hall, ALL the kids call his name and give him a high five! He loves to read to the elementary classes or do other lessons about internet safety or stranger danger. There is no shortage of topics to talk about with the students. He says he gets really interesting questions from the kids, many of whom see way too much at way too young of an age. He says unfortunately, some of them have grown up with a negative image or negative experiences with police officers. The School Resource Officers want to change that.
That’s why they eat lunch with the students, and do programs like “Rise and Shine,” where the SRO’s start the day at an elementary school playing music, singing, and dancing as they open car doors and greet students and parents as they arrive at school in the mornings. The program has gained national attention on social media and continues to draw praises from kids, parents, and staff here in our district.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the biggest thing all the SRO’s have in common is their heart. They all care for these students fiercely, just like our teachers do. They put in countless hours building relationships, trying to break through barriers and forge emotional connections with our kids. They hope these connections will matter someday. And as we all know…they already do.