Life is what you make it. Everyday, kids are making choices that will impact who they will be for the rest of their lives: What type of friends should I have? Should I attend that party? Go on that trip? How do I pursue my dreams?
Kids need someone to mentor them along the path of uncertainty, which is why the SRO (School Resource Officer) program has existed for the last 26 years at Warsaw Community Schools. Four Warsaw city police officers are assigned to the school system to teach DARE classes, help with traffic, mentor students, and assist administration with safety procedures.
Sgt. Dave Morales, the officer at the high school, explained that the SROs are “an extension of the school, like another arm. Students often feel more comfortable talking to us about their struggles than another adult. And in this way we are living out the school’s mission and enriching the lives of others.”
Indiana is one of the top states for school safety because of this excellent program. SRO requires annual training and a 40-hour basic class on mentoring, related laws, and school policies. But the WCS program goes above and beyond.
“We do a lot of things that other schools don’t to stay ahead of trends. We incorporate cameras; conduct building searches and much more. The school is the safest place to be in the whole county,” Morales said.
Officer Doug Light, a DARE coach, added, “DARE stays on top of trends and makes curriculum changes when needed. Our newest one discusses topics like dealing with stress, friendship, and peer pressure. It’s not all about the drugs —though we do address tobacco and alcohol. But there will always be a diversity of tough choices kids have to make and bumps in the road. We help them learn how to deal with that.
“I always tell the kids, ‘I am going to give you all the tools, and it is what you do with the tools that makes all the difference.’ So if a kid makes a poor choice, it wasn’t because DARE failed, it was because they didn’t use the tools,” explained Light.
Light also noted, “A couple weeks ago we had a two-hour fog delay, and a gentleman came to see me down at the station. He said, ‘you had my son in DARE. He had some rough years, and I wanted to thank you for everything you did for him. I know it wasn’t easy, but I want you to know he has turned things around, and he just enlisted in the National Guard. I know that you played a big part in that.’ Those are the things that drive you. There have been times when promotions have been available, but I didn’t apply because I wanted to keep doing this. I love this job. For me it is about making that difference in a child’s life. That is the rewarding part about it, to see those impacts you have.”
Morales agreed, adding, “The thing about being a DARE officer is that you have to have that passion. You have to want to do it. You can’t just take any police officer and stick him/her in there and say ‘have at it.’ You truly have to have the heart for it, and that is really what makes it special. Every year, I get wedding invitations and baby announcements from former students. They remember that you cared, and they often want to stay in touch.”
This year’s sixth grade class will have a large DARE graduation at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on May 12. Previous events have included repelling police officers from the ceilings and funny videos. This year’s celebration, which included a motorcycle riding onto the stage, was just as entertaining.