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Wolf Creek sees positive relationships built through SRO program

By Vince Burke
Wolf Creek Public Schools’ School Resource Officer Program Team consists of Constable Michelle Wilzer, Lacombe Police Service; Constable Jeff Hewitt, Blackfalds RCMP; Barb Reaney, Director of Safe and Caring Schools, WCPS; Constable Lenny Wells, Ponoka RCMP; Community Peace Officer, Dave Lahucik, Lacombe County. (Photo submitted)

By Vince Burke

Wolf Creek Public Schools

Stories of helping a student through family struggles, or outreach to ensure another child can find a better path forward, to simply connecting with high fives in the hallway highlighted a report from Wolf Creek Public Schools’ (WCPS) School Resource Officers (SRO).

Const. Michelle Wilzer, Lacombe Police Service; Barb Reaney, Director of Safe and Caring Schools, WCPS; Const. Lenny Wells, Ponoka RCMP; and Dave Lahucik, Lacombe County Peace Officer provided a program update to the WCPS’ Board of Trustees Jan. 19.

In schools, SROs provide a number of services, through presentations and interactions with students. SROs are able to encourage positive, healthy recreational activities for children and youth, while they develop a deep understanding of the school culture, and of any issue in the school that may be putting students at risk.

“It’s about creating a visible and positive image of law enforcement, while forging relationships with students,” said Reaney.

An average day is spent between schools, as Wolf Creek has four SROs. They serve the Wolf Creek schools within their own community, but also at times attend Wolf Creek schools in communities that don’t have an SRO, to ensure those students are also getting vital information on everything from vaping to drugs, personal boundaries to traffic law.

Wells, who serves Ponoka and area WCPS schools, said he likes to start the day in the high school to build those close relationships, but ensures he is interacting with kids at the elementary school level as well, adding those relationships are crucial.

“When they come to the high school for the first time, if we haven’t done a good job with education (in elementary) then it makes it tougher to make those connections,” said Wells.

The presence of an SRO also benefits in response to incidents as they occur, and how best to respond.

“They want to look at alternatives other than always laying charges. They don’t want to have to ticket unless necessary,” said Reaney. “They look at other ways to grow awareness through strategies like restorative justice.”

Restorative justice is an approach that aims to repair harm by creating opportunities between those who take responsibility and those harmed to address their needs following an incident.

“It encourages engagement and understanding of the harm caused and the path forward to make amends,” said Reaney.

SRO presentations to students have recently focused on bullying and cyberbullying, but will move to vehicle safety in March and impaired driving in April. Beyond presentations, SROs routinely talk with students in the hallways, create encouragement through kindness bingo or positive ticketing for a kind deed, to handing out collectable ‘Cop Cards’ that help students learn more about their SRO and become familiar with them in the school.

“Our SROs are often something as simple as a high five in the hallway all the way to as vital as a pillar of support, a big brother or sister for a student who feels they have no one else to turn to,” said Reaney. “This commitment to youth is phenomenal and our schools, our students and our entire communities are better served with their presence in the school.”

Wolf Creek currently has SROs based out of Ponoka, Lacombe, Lacombe County and Blackfalds.