In four of our elementary afterschool programs, Pittsburgh Police Officers have been volunteering their time with the Little Learning Warriors.  From Zones 1, 2, 3, and 5, the officers visit, read to, and spend time with the students for one to two hours per visit, each school taking a unique approach in how they incorporate the officers into their reading program and daily activities.  Sharmyn Straughters, our Volunteer Coordinator, speaks highly of the officers saying they are “very committed, highly involved, and passionate about supporting the children they serve.”

Sergeant Michael Burford from Zone 1 volunteers at Morrow Elementary twice per week.  Two officers from Zone 2 currently volunteer at Arsenal Elementary: Officer Antoine Davis on Mondays, and Officer David Condon on Wednesdays.  Arlington is fortunate to currently have four Officers volunteering in their program: from Zone 3, Lieutenant Edward Cunningham was the first to begin volunteering; since then Officer Jared Littler and Officer Nathan Auvil have joined in the opportunity to read with our Little Learning Warriors.  Sergeant Christina Davison, who has been coordinating with her Officers and scheduling volunteer dates, has also participated in the program at Arlington.

I had the opportunity to speak with Officer Davis at Arsenal Elementary and Sergeant Burford at Morrow Elementary, and ask them about their motivations, experiences, and reflections on their time volunteering with the Little Learning Warriors so far:

Officer Antoine Davis, Zone 2 Station volunteering at Arsenal Elementary

 

How long have you been a police officer?
I have been a Police Officer for four years.

 

What made you decide to start volunteering with the afterschool programs?
I believe the Afterschool program provides a wonderful opportunity for law enforcement Officers to develop a relationship with students of all ages.

 

What does your typical afternoon look like with the kids?
My afternoon with the children is filled with laughter, learning, and listening.  I learn from them just as much as they learn from me.  These children are so smart, I feel like they are tutoring me sometimes.

 

What has your experience been like so far?  Any favorite or memorable experiences that stand out to you?
The experience so far has been wonderful.  Seeing their smiling faces when I walk into the room fills my heart with joy!

The most memorable moment for me was my first day.  I remember when I first walked in, most of the students were afraid of me.  The response I get now is, as soon as I walk into the door, I am greeted with hugs, high fives, and smiles.  Being a witness to this type of transformation proves people can change their perception on how they feel about Police.

 

How have you felt the kids have responded to you, or is there something you hope they take away from the experience?
I believe the children respond to me very well.  I feel that they like me.  But most of all, I want them to trust me.  I believe trust is very important to young people because they are so impressionable.  Due to the fact they cannot defend themselves most of the time, I believe that showing them someone other than their parents care about their well being can help them feel safe.  By them knowing this, if they ever find themselves in a situation where they need help, they will not hesitate to approach an Officer on the street or call 911.

The one thing that I hope all the students get from our time spent together is knowing that, no matter what negative things they may hear about Police Officers, we are here to help those who cannot help themselves.  I also want them to realize that it does not matter what color you are, if you are a boy or girl, what country you are from, how old you are, etc.; Police help everyone.  If I am able to get that message across, I believe it will build relationships that last forever.

 

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Sergeant Michael Burford, Zone 1 Station volunteering at Morrow Elementary

 

How long have you been a police officer?
I have been a police officer with the City of Pittsburgh since January 2005.  I spent the majority of my career working in Zone 5 until 2013 when I was promoted and moved to the Zone 1 station.

 

What made you decide to start volunteering with the afterschool programs?
When this program was first presented to me I looked at it as a way to help influence and form a positive relationship between younger children and the police.  I was hoping that we would be able to let these children see us in a different atmosphere than on the street, which is usually under less than ideal circumstances.  If the children, at this young of an age, can see us in a positive light then hopefully they can maintain this attitude later into their life and possibly influence others to recognize that police aren’t just here to arrest people.  I also try to stress to the children that, behind our uniforms and badge, we are people just like them; that a majority of us attended Pittsburgh Public schools and sat in the same classrooms that they are in now.  Hopefully this will lead them to a more positive relationship with police in their future.

 

What does your typical afternoon look like with the kids?
So far our normal afternoon with the kids consists of two separate reading sessions with the 1st and 2nd grade, and then with the 3rd and 4th grade kids.  Two officers usually attend each session and first sit with the kids, talking to them about what they have been up to and make small talk about topics like holidays (favorite Halloween candies, Thanksgiving dinner items).  We then read a couple of books with the kids and ask them questions about the story or get their opinions about what is going on with the characters.  At first we [the Officers] would pick the books for the children, but now we are finding that the kids are bringing in their own books, which has been great.  If there is time after these readings we will then join the kids for whatever activities they have going on.  We have also been planning with the staff to begin assisting the kids with science experiments in the future, as well as joining them in field trips to the local library.

 

What has your experience been like so far?  Any favorite or memorable experiences that stand out to you?
Our experience so far has been great.  After the first session I spoke with a staff member who advised me that the kids were asking when we would be back.  At the time I wasn’t sure how our visit had been perceived by the kids and was surprised by this feedback.  After the next couple of visits it was clear that the kids did look forward to us visiting, and I have also found myself looking forward to getting myself and the other Officers there to interact with the kids.  Much like I mentioned earlier with the kids picking out the books that we read, as I read books to my own kids at home I find myself thinking, “the school children would be interested in this book as well.”

 

How have you felt the kids have responded to you, or is there something you hope they take away from the experience?
The kids have responded better than I expected so far.  I realized that we would have resistance at first from some of the kids, but I have found that in the short amount of time we have been involved, we have been able to “turn around” some of the children who at first were acting out and seemingly uninterested.  If we are engaged in a discussion about a topic in the book we’re reading, we will specifically ask one of these children their thoughts and engage them in their opinion.  What I have found is that they are paying attention and respond positively.

During the last session I was sitting in my patrol vehicle outside of the school, waiting to go in, when I observed one of these particular students who had been acting out and who was somewhat stand-offish at first.  He was walking with a group of kids and when he saw my vehicle he began to wave.  I was amazed that, after such a short time, we were able to make a positive impression on this kid.

I hope that the children are able to gain a positive attitude towards the police so that when they see a police officer walking down the street they see them as a person and someone they can approach.