School resource officers serving as mentors to students

WATERBURY, CT (WFSB) — School resource officers in Connecticut are helping students head back to the classroom.

Officer Andres Rivera is the school resource officer at Wallace Middle School in Waterbury and is helping to make a difference in one student at a time.

“This is my old stomping grounds,” Rivera said walking the halls at Wallace Middle School on Tuesday morning. “I came to Wallace Middle School and graduated in 1988, so it’s been a while.”

Things may look a little different 30 years since Rivera attended it, but his love of the place hasn’t changed.

Rivera is veteran Waterbury police officer who for the past 7 years has worked as the Wallace Middle School’s SRO. Rivera said being from here makes him able to especially relate to kids to serve as mentor and friend.

“I definitely feel as though I have an edge. I am a product of the inner city as well,” Rivera said. “Born and raised on the east end pretty much all my life.”

Middle school is the age of puberty and emotions and hormones, concerns about popularity if you will fit in and how you are perceived online. Rivera said these are areas where a school resource officer can really be helpful for a kid.

“The social media stuff with the whole I like you, you like me. It’s tough cause they are at an age where if you don’t monitor them, especially if you don’t monitor them at home, they’re coming they’re bringing stuff to school and we have those issues,” Rivera said. “I didn’t have to deal with cyber bullying back then.”

For Waterbury Police Chief Vernon Riddick, who himself attended Wallace Middle School, he said it’s important for kids to see the SRO as so much more than a uniformed officer.

“The misconception is that law enforcement is inside the school to enforce laws, that is totally false, we are here to provide a service to be mentors,” Riddick said.

At the Waterbury back-to-school rally, kids collected free backpacks to get ready for the school year. Rivera worked with the crowd, introduced himself and built a rapport.

Rivera said it’s not just about mentoring, it’s about trying to connect with those most at risk.

“I see something in the way maybe their mannerisms or the way they speak to a certain staff member, then I say okay this kid needs a little talking to,” Rivera said. “Some advice, I can give them sometimes you can pick up on it quick.”

Rivera is seen by many in the school as authority figure filled with compassion. Teacher Melissa Banks said it is the magic combination.

“He has such a good rapport with the kids, here, they look up to him. They talk to him,” Banks, who teaches eighth grade, said.

Over in Newington, Tuesday was freshman orientation day at the high school, and administrators wanted every student to get to know the school resource officer.

School Resource Officer Dan Kaufmann introduced himself to the students and let them know he is there for them, not just as a protector but as a mentor.

In high school, students may be driving and working and trying to figure out what college to go to, if they want to go to college, what sort of career they may want to pursue.

There can be a lot of stressors and a school resource officer can be a great tool in helping kids navigate the road to adulthood.

“You’re always one the lookout for a kid that doesn’t have. You don’t see him walking with other kids or sitting by themselves. It’s someone definitely you want to talk to and see if there’s anything you can do,” Kaufmann said.

At orientation, there is, of course, the conversation about social media and bullying. Newington police Chief Stephen Clark was class of 1981 at the high school back when the internet and cyberbullying didn’t exist.

“Looking back at my days at the high school here there wasn’t social media that you have now. If there was a conflict at school or some difficulties that a kid was having at school. It was just during that time that they left they went home. And they don’t have that ability now. Social media follows them. It perpetuates exactly and they can’t get away from it,” Clark said.

Clark says officer Kaufmann is a key tool in the fight against cyber bullying.

For students, the idea of a police officer as a faculty member is an interesting combination. A beneficial one if any kids feel they could use a little advice even if it has nothing to do with bullying.