May 14, 2016 - When Lexington Police Officer Stacy Shannon walks down the hallway at Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy, it’s not long before she’s mobbed by several energetic students who are happy to see her.
“You always knew that you were going to be greeted with a smile, a hug, a high-five,” Shannon said.
For the past eight months, Officer Shannon has helped mentor the elementary school’s academic team. It’s part of a pilot project initiated by Police Chief Mark Barnard and the local NAACP chapter to pair officers with Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy and William Wells Brown Elementary.
When the police department approached BTW 3rd grade teacher Ashley Tolson about the idea last summer, “it almost seemed too good to be true.”
Each week the police department provided snacks for the academic team practice sessions, and all the kids were given uniforms and backpacks. Officers also took the academic teams on a field trip to Frankfort, where they toured the Capitol and KentuckyState University campus.
“The kids loved it, and the police officers were here every week,” Tolson said. “I could tell that a lot of the kids had seen the officers around [the neighborhood], but now they got to develop a deeper relationship. They got to joke around and see that they’re actual people, not just authority figures.”
Fifth grader Devon Rowe agreed. “It’s nice because I get to talk with them and learn what it’s like to be a police officer, the different jobs that they have,” Devon said. “They would help us with the group work and working against our opponents.”
As a neighborhood resource officer for the Georgetown Street area, Officer Shannon responds to a variety of calls for help, and she knows that police aren’t always well received. But throughout the school year, Shannon has seen a change in perception.
“When I was a regular patrol officer in the neighborhood, the kids may or may not speak to you. Now when you see them on the weekends they’ll stop and wave. They’ll sometimes almost run out in the street to get your attention and talk to you,” Shannon said.
“Just the presence of the officers and knowing that there are more adults out there who care about them has made a huge difference,” added Tolson.
At a recent school pep rally to gear up for end-of-year testing, police officers faced off against the BTW academic team to see if they were “smarter than a 5th grader.” A question about what types of food should make up half of your plate (officers answered bacon and donuts but the correct response was fruits and vegetables) sealed a victory for the students. The gymnasium erupted with laughter.
But the officers didn’t seem to mind. This time they were the ones giving high-fives and smiles as students walked back to class.