White Hall Elementary students honor police officers

Jan. 25—FAIRMONT — Third time's the charm for White Hall Elementary's Police Appreciation Day.

After two failed attempts following winter weather closures, officers from the White Hall Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff's Office marched up and down the halls of the school on Jan. 23, giving out high fives and ingesting cookies in the library.

"I think, kids from a young age, it's important for them to see the police on many multiple facets," Rachelle Bourne, teacher and event organizer, said. "A lot of times and you've heard it from a lot of the students, police are associated with just dealing with bad guys. I know they do, but there's so much more that they do in our communities. So, just getting kids to see that."

Although Bourne set the agenda, the school's fourth graders were the ones who really made the event happen. Performing a service project was already part of the fourth grade social studies standards. However, Bourne realized that Law Enforcement Appreciation Day was in January, which presented a perfect opportunity that coincided with her lesson plan goals.

After pitching the idea to her fourth grade class, students readily agreed. They immediately got to work, and organized the other grades to bring donated items to help fill gift baskets for police officers. They designed posters and gave presentations to each classroom on what Law Enforcement Appreciation Day was. Items were gathered through Dec. 20, and the baskets assembled soon after. Students were prepared but cold weather scuttled plans, which were initially set for Jan. 9.

"We always go with the flow, our students adapt and so do we," Principal Nan Murray said. "We just adapt, did our climate control packets and we're fine."

Despite the setback, students were still eager. On the day of the event, students lined up and down the main hall, cheering and waving posters they made for the occasion.

However, what might be easy to miss due to the enthusiastic appreciation the school children showed for police was that the response was a direct result of the White Hall Police Department's efforts to make themselves a part of the community, rather than stand apart.

"At the beginning of the school day, they're out there with the buses so when the kids get off the buses or the parents are dropping them off, they always watch to make sure they can get across the road easy," Kara Bushko-Oates, fourth grade teacher, said. "Like Les, the police officer, he would come into the building and watch the kids, go down the hallway, speak to them, joke with them, tease them, tease us. Just, make it more of a family situation rather than a police one that made them a lot more comfortable."

Deputy Chief Les Clifton recently retired but has been a regular presence at the school.

White Hall Police Chief Geno Guerrieri has worked as an officer for 27 years and has been familiar with the concept of community policing from the very beginning. Guerrieri said it's important to be a part of the community because the kids look up to them.

"This is our next generation moving up," he said. "We want to teach them the right things. If they do need something that we're there for them, we're not, a lot of people are scared of the police. This instills in the kids that we're going to do whatever we can to help you."

Guerrieri might not have to worry about future recruiting. Several students in Bourne's class expressed an interest in joining the force once they're grown up.

Katie Willard, said she wants to join the force when she's older because she wants to protect people against things like kidnapping or theft because it's bad. Ryan Marshall concurred, however he added a community focused perspective to his desire to serve.

"I want to be a police officer because I like helping people and if I help people, I could encourage more people to help everyone," he said.

Reach Esteban at efernandez@timeswv.com