by Scott DCamp
Since the beginning of the year, there has been an increased law enforcement presence at Challenger Elementary.
Beginning in October, Pennington County Sheriff deputies and Thief River Falls police officers have been participating in a new program called COPS (Caring on Patrol for Students). Law enforcement officers from both agencies have volunteered to help mentor a child at Challenger Elementary.
COPS is organized by the Pennington County chapter of the Little Brother/Little Sister program. The officers, serve as mentors of the children, called Littles by the LBLS program. Littles, and their parents have agreed to a one-school-year commitment in which the officer eats lunch, plays at recess and tries to attend the Little's informance days. As of now, each participating officer is only matched with one student.
“My hope is to expand the program to fire fighters and possibly ask who is able to take on one more student that has an alternate schedule,” said Melora Bergee, Little Brother/Little Sister coordinator.
Student participants in the program are chosen by Bergee and Vice Principal Mike Wienen.
“We look at all the children in the COPS program as needing a special friend in their lives,” Bergee said.
Bergee explained that the
officers meet with students as their schedule fits. The students are told up front that the officers will show up in a surprise setting.
“Officer's schedules are busy and we don't want to get the hopes of the Little's up if the officer gets a call and can't show that day.
On Tuesday, Officer Ryan Bassett of the Thief River Falls Police Department met with Kale, a second grade student at Challenger.
“I try to come out at least once a week,” Bassett said. “I ask him what he’s learning in school.”
Kale said that Bassett usually begins their time together by asking if he is having a good day, what he did over the weekend and other questions like what he got for Christmas.
“He asks me a lot of questions too and I learn a lot from him,” Bassett said.
While he is there mainly for Kale, Bassett also interacts with the other students at the lunch table. As one would expect, they have a lot of questions for someone in Bassett’s line of work.
Bergee said the program has changed student’s perception of law enforcement.
“We have seen such a positive response from the students enrolled and other students in the school. Principal Patrick Marolt said at the last School Board Meeting that he is noticing a general change in student attitudes. He said that when students used to see the officers come in they would say things like ‘hey the cops are here.’ Now they say police officers.”