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February 21, 2013

School Resource Officers work to protect, educate

MILLEDGEVILLE — Dealing with issues such as contact bullying, cyber bullying, fights and threats is almost a daily challenge for School Resource Officers (SRO). 

Baldwin County Schools implemented SROs in the early 1990s. Heightened social media presence in many students’ daily lives coupled with other outside forces and news of school shootings in other communities often changes the landscape.

In order to keep a priority of ensuring a safe school environment for all faculty, staff, students and visitors alike, sheriff’s deputies Tony Holland and Jason Simmons work to form relationships with school personnel and youth while educating on handling negative situations and promoting positive behavior.

Holland has been the school resource office for Oak Hill Middle School since 2008. On a daily basis, he patrols the interior and exterior of school grounds, teaches the Exploring Public Safety course, visits classrooms, and counsels students in an effort to keep the current student population of around 1,250 comfortable and safe in the school setting.

“The idea of the public safety class was an idea by [Oak Hill Principal Dr. Linda Ramsey] and myself; we started the class just this year. We wanted to get more involved with the kids to let them know I’m here not only to be the police, but also their friend,” Holland said. “Most of these kids haven’t been around tragedy or have ever experienced it until the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.”

At Baldwin High School, Simmons said the magnitude of behavior issues and incidents amongst the 1,350 students are on another level compared to middle school.

“When students come to high school, things change in their lives and they’re trying to find themselves. Nobody holds their hand while they try to figure out life right here in this building; you’re dealing with a whole different type of person compared to a middle-schooler,” said Simmons, who has been the high school’s SRO for three years. “The top three issues here are bullying, conflict and smoking. Cyber bullying is a big problem with our children today. A lot of kids have to deal with contact bullying like assaults, but most of the incidents derive from cyber bullying. [SROs] face those challenges daily, like threats via telephone, but it just makes it difficult for us. We also have a lot of thefts.”

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