At recent Geneva school council meetings, many people spoke out against hiring another school resource manager. I understand their concerns, and years ago I might have been one of them.
When I first learned that there were police officers in my children’s school, I was appalled. It bothered me that teachers could not maintain order without the presence of an armed ORS. I hated the idea of having a gun in the school, and perhaps most of all, I almost felt like the students were being treated like potential criminals. I thought kids who worried about shooters in school or felt unsafe would be best served by a counselor or therapist who would help them deal with what, at the time, seemed like fears. irrational.
It took a serious breakdown of order at the Lycée de Genève to make me change my mind.
In November, a series of fighting broke out at GHS. The building was closed and many students called their parents during the day to tell them they were afraid to be there. Rumors and allegations were circulating about the cause, and it was difficult to know who to believe. District officials did what they could, investigating every incident and arranging meetings with the students to clean the air, but the situation continued to worsen. I went to a meeting of worried parents, not sure what we could do, but knowing we had to do something.
The meeting was packed with people I knew. I recognized faces from years of Little League and basketball, football and group concerts. Here are the people, not all with children, who have shown themselves quietly for our children. They were positive and determined not to get bogged down in politics. The Geneva police officer and the SRO school Raul Arroyo was one of them.
It has been a difficult few years for the district with Covid-19, the suspension of the superintendent, resignations of teachers and the impeachment of the college principal. There were and still are classes without teachers and a shortage of substitute teachers, classroom monitors and bus drivers. High school is normally the time when kids begin to make the transition to adulthood, but after nearly a year of distance or hybrid learning, the first and second year classes were much less mature than they were. ‘habit. They were disruptive and unstable to the point that teachers struggled to teach and students struggled to learn. Everyone seemed under duress. Temperaments were short and the situation was volatile.
It was especially bleak for struggling students, who once relied on the school to provide them with an oasis of calm and consistency in their lives. No one understood this situation better than Officer Arroyo.
Listening to him speak, I realized that he occupies a unique position in the neighborhood. He is dedicated solely to the safety of students and maintains privileged relationships with many of them. He notices which children are arriving at school hungry and keeps snacks for them in his office. He knows the difference between children who are just plain immature and those who need special help. He is good at defusing tense situations and he cares deeply about students. But, as the one SRO for three different school buildings, each with their own challenges, he seemed like a man close to his breaking point.
I wondered what would happen if there was a serious incident in one of the schools. Who would I trust to deal with it – an ordinary municipal police officer or someone who knows and cares about the students involved?
By showing up every morning at school, watching what’s going on and listening to what people have to say, I came to believe that Agent Arroyo and another ORS would play a crucial role in stabilizing our schools and make them work for all of our children.
Today’s world scares children. The Covid-19 cut them off from their extended family, their peers, and part of their childhood. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that young adults are not the same as real adults, that now, more than ever, they need time and understanding.
It is so important to show them in word and deed that parents, teachers and other adults in our community support them. They need to know that they can count on us to create a safe place where they can relax and continue to grow. To do this, we must be prepared to put our biases aside, listen to them, and listen to each other with an open mind.
Above all, we must never forget that it is our children and the future of Geneva that are at stake.
Geneva resident Nancy McDermott is the author of “The Problem with Parenting: How Raising Children is Changing across America”. She is the mother of a graduate from Lycée Genève 2021 and a current junior from GHS.