The gym bleachers were overflowing with about 1,400 students and 100 staff members last Wednesday. Pope John Paul II C.S.S. was holding its annual pep rally.
Guys and girls from the school’s dance squad were moving to a mix of dance hall and reggae songs when near the routine’s end came the song “Somebody call 9-1-1.”
Enter Const. Sharon Myers.
Dressed in her police uniform, she came from the back hallway to join in the remaining seconds of the dance number’s finale. The students stood up and clapped for her.
Myers is one of 50 officers involved in the Toronto Police school resource officers program. The program is meant to improve the relationship between police and youth at the grassroots level. She has been stationed at PJP II since the start of this school year.
“Not only is she accepted but she’s celebrated,” said Paul McAlpine, PJP II principal. “You have to earn your stripes and she’s done that through building relationships with the students.”
While Myers admits she was embarrassed to perform in front of the entire school, she said working with the dance squad was a lot of fun.
Myers wanted to be stationed at PJP II because she was familiar with the school and its administrators. She has worked with 43 division for more than two years.
Myers has done community work throughout high schools in east Scarborough. PJP II is one of four schools in 43 Division that have a resource officer. Cedarbrea C.I., West Hill C.I. and Sir Robert L. Borden B.T.I. are the others.
“She just came so I’m still getting used to having a cop at school,” said Genesis Giocada, grade 12 student at PJP II. “But she seems kind of nice.”
While some students like Genesis are still adjusting to having an extra authority figure at school, many parents said they are glad to have one stationed at PJP II.
In the debate against giving students the wrong message by having police officers in high schools, Genesis’ mother, Nina Giocada, argues that having Myers makes the school a safer place for her son.
“I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “To me it’s better that there’s a police officer because whatever happens, they’re there. I think it would even discourage kids getting into trouble after school.”
Along with patrolling school halls, Myers’ duties include delivering presentations on guidelines to policing in law and history classes, participating in the Empowered Student Partnership program (a program that encourages students to work toward eliminating safety issues in school), and attending staff meetings.
She also engages in other student activities such as supporting the junior girls basketball team.
Myers has her own office in the school’s library. She is on school grounds Monday to Friday during school hours. Her placement at PJP ends in 2011.
Before coming to PJP II, Myers was involved with other student-oriented Toronto Police programs. Before the school resource officers program launched, she worked with PJP II students in the equestrian program. For 10 weeks, at-risk girls who had no experience with horses learned to groom and ride.
“Now I got a relationship with these girls, they come up to me and confide,” Myers said.
In 43 Division’s eastside cooking corner program, Myers, along with other Toronto officers, taught youth about healthy meals and etiquette.
Sense of family
According to Myers and McAlpine, having a resident cop helps foster the sense of family the school works toward creating in its community.
“It provides an intelligent resource in terms of social assistance needs,” McAlpine said. “We have another link in our student success model that not only can we speak to our social worker and guidance department and our Catholic Youth Workers, but we now also have Sharon on board who can direct students to other resources.”
The school wanted to be involved in the resource officer program last year. It was granted its request this year, in the second phase of the program’s launch.
According to Myers, who has always wanted the opportunity to work in an education setting, being a school resource officer is a rewarding experience.
“I wake up in the morning and look forward to coming to work,” she said. “The school has become part of me. It’s important to have this relationship with all the schools and let everyone know that just because you see a car in front of a high school doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.”