ashland.news
July 21, 2024

Building bridges: Ashland High School students promote adding student resource officer on campus

Ashland Police Officer Angel Valdez, lower right, is in his second year with the department but made his debut in his daytime shift with a game of cornhole at Ashland High School. He is one of several officers to take part Tuesday in a tournament that started last week. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
October 20, 2023

Students, Ashland Police Department officers face off for rounds of cornhole; continue to foster relationships

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Students might associate a police car on campus at Ashland High School with something bad rather than something good.

That’s how AHS Senior Co-President Kendra Machala sees the stereotypes that students sometimes have with those in law enforcement. The presence of “a cop” on campus often prompts the response of, “Who was it?” or “Who did it?” she added. 

The senior co-class president, along with Associated Student Body Co-President Noah Cott, 17, would like​​ those stereotypes to change. So, along with their leadership class, they welcomed officers to campus last week and again on Tuesday to play cornhole, trying to toss beanbags through holes. 

“Many people are a little bit frightened of cops … especially many people in minority groups,” Cott said.

The friendly tournament games, held in the school quad, were part of an overall effort to foster relationships between police officers and students. Leadership students plan to eventually survey students to see if the student body would welcome the return of a school resource officer for the first time in a decade.

Ashland High School seniors Noah Cott, 17, left, co-president of the Associated Student Body, and Kendra Machala, 18, co-president of the senior class, helped organize the second annual cornhole tournament between students and APD. The event is part of an initiative aimed at helping boost relationships between students and local law enforcement, with an eventual goal of returning a school resource officer to the district. Such an action would need approval from the Ashland School Board. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

The duo helped organize this year’s cornhole tournament with Ashland police, an event started last school year by another student.

“She had this idea to put it on and it was super successful and brought a lot of people out during class in the nice, fall weather,” Machala said.

Machala and Cott decided to hold the event again this year because it was such a  success the first time.

APD not only sent officers, they sent backup, it seemed. Machala said students reserved four parking spots for law enforcement but more than six came out to play, including Chief Tighe O’Meara during the last week’s first round.

The event isn’t the only way the school is trying to foster relationships with local law enforcement. 

Ashland police have also been invited to attend Grizzly football games this fall, an idea Cott was part of implementing.

One officer  in particular who attended the game was a big hit among students, who responded well to a light-hearted sign he carried: “Cheer or go to jail.”

Ashland Police officers took a break on Tuesday afternoon from writing reports and instead kept score during a cornhole tournament with AHS students. From left, Officers Bill Fisher and Angel Valdez, and Sgt. Theron Hull. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

“It kind of changed the stereotype of having officers at games, so if we could change that for on campus, that would be awesome,” Cott said.

AHS Leadership has been talking about how to spread more positivity with cops, especially in the event they seek a school resource officer on campus.

“We’re going to give out a survey at some point about how the students feel about it,” Cott said. “I’m hoping that if we can kind of show them what it would be like to have a school resource officer, by having the cops here for events like that, then by the time we give out the survey, it would be something based more on their knowledge of the program than stereotypes.”

Both Machala and Cot, who are student representatives for the Ashland School Board, are hoping survey results could help implement a school resource officer for the district for the 2024-2025 school year, if that’s what their classmates want.

“I love that the kids are organizing it and seeking it out,” said Bogdanove on Wednesday.

He also noted how the cornhole tournament is one of the ways students and cops are building relationships.

“They had a scoreboard, but I don’t think anybody checked it,” Bogdanove said with a laugh.

He said the school board’s policy in place allows for a SRO, though funding would likely be from the city of Ashland, not from the school district.

Ashland Police Sgt. Theron Hull keeps score during a cornhole tournament which started last week. The event is in its second year and is intended to help bridge barriers between students and local law enforcement. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

The role of a school resource officer goes beyond law enforcement. As a current posting for such a position at Phoenix High School puts it, SROs “Provide a safe learning environment and help reduce school violence; Improve school-law enforcement collaboration on issues impacting students, staff and the local community; Improve the perceptions and relations between students, school faculty, parents and law enforcement officials; and, Provide a resource for students, school faculty, parents, law enforcement and other governmental agencies.”

“Both the board and I and the high school administration are interested in what the students have to say about it,” Bogdanove said. “The board could pass policy saying we don’t want a school resource officer, but I think at this point everybody just wants to understand what school resource officer programs can do and any concerns that go along with that.”

Whatever is decided, Bogdanove said the school district wants the solution to come from students.

Ashland High previously had a SRO in 2013 and 2014, a role filled by APD Det. Sgt. Bon Stewart. The role was funded fully by the city.

“There was a point in time where that funding dried up,” Bogdanove said. “We haven’t really been able to revisit it. I’m hopeful that APD will be in a position to do this if we get all of our ducks in a row and agree that it’s the right thing to do.”

Stewart was on hand for the tournament on Tuesday as well, tossing bean bags hanging out with students and fellow officers.

Ashland Police Sgt. Theron Hull, left, and Det. Sgt. Bon Stewart enjoy the lightheartedness of a cornhole tournament in the Ashland High School quad on Tuesday organized by Ashland High Student Leadership. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

“I still have a presence and a relationship here,” Stewart said, wearing a Grizzly red shirt and noting that he still gives presentations in classes like government.

“I think it’s important for kids to feel comfortable around cops,” Stewart said, “just see that we’re actually human beings. It’s difficult for people to see past that uniform.”

Stewart said that APD has always wanted to continue the SRO program since it ended with his role.

“We have always said, if we have the staffing, we will give you a SRO,” he said. “Because of COVID, and the politics around law enforcement since the George Floyd homicide, has really moved people to look at different careers, so we are short five officers right now. So if we can get those positions filled, we would have a SRO.”

Stewart emphasized that law enforcement doesn’t want to have a SRO presence to “bust” kids but to keep drugs and strangers off campus.

He sees the role of a SRO as a deterrent on campus, including to an active shooter.

“SRO’s are there as an educational piece as well as a guardian,” Stewart said.

And on Tuesday, they were on hand to try to school the students in cornhole.

Sgt. Theron Hull was all smiles as he traded filing reports for keeping score in his notebook.

“Not every kid has positive interactions with the police,” Hull said. “This is one way to do it, and it’s been good for us, too. For a lot of the officers that haven’t even been to the school yet, because we don’t have an officer presence yet.”

Ashland High Principal Benjamin Bell was also on hand for the tournament.

“You know, the best way to develop a relationship of any kind is to play together, and so we’re able to provide this time and space and our Leadership class wanted to do, APD was interested, and it’s been great,” Bell said.

Email Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Oct. 21: Spelling of Noah Cott’s name and title corrected.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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