BROCKWAY — Brockway Area School District Superintendent Jeff Vizza said that they were listening to student suggestions when they added security screens, hooks and wires to classroom doors, and trimmed the number of morning entryways down to two. Another suggestion led the district to hiring two school resource officers.
“They have so much experience that I knew the board would hire both of them,” Vizza said.
Brockway brought Curtis Wise and Don Routch in as the school resource officers to start the 2018-2019 school year. Between them, their combined law enforcement experience adds up to 78 years.
Wise worked for the Pennsylvania State Police and has over 35 years of experience. He has been in charge of investigations and has been a part of the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT).
“What I learned as a negotiator for SERT, I think, will help me with the kids,” Wise said. “It taught me active listening skills.”
Wise added that Brockway is a real change of pace from his old job.
“This job is a lot more laid back,” he said. “There’s a lot less paperwork. It’s different dealing with kids all day long instead of with adults. As a State Police officer, I dealt with people in negative situations. Here, I’ll interact with them in a positive light.”
That interaction also invigorates Routch.
“This is a chance to meet kids that you would normally meet under bad circumstances,” he said. “Through our job, we always see people at their worst – someone getting arrested or someone in a bad accident. The people you’d meet then were having a bad time.”
Routch worked for the City of DuBois and Sandy Township for 43 years. He spent time as a school resource officer at DuBois Area Middle School.
The school resource officers are a visible presence in the school. They wear red polo shirts with black pants and shining badges along with handcuffs and weapons. They also have arrest authority, but the plan is not to use that ability but to help students make positive choices throughout their school careers. School administration has officers talking to students, monitoring arrivals and dismissals, and keeping an eye on recess. However, they are also getting to know the students, teaching awareness lessons in classes, and answering questions.
“Our main goal is to educate and mentor,” Routch said. “Law enforcement is last on our list. But the kids are safe here. We’re here to help you, but we’re not here to arrest you. This is a safe environment for everyone.”
The safety is something that Routch tells students is as much their job as the school’s.
“The main thing about school security is to get kids involved,” he said. “If they hear something, say something. But the school is going a long way to help make it safer.”
“The more access points, the more chances someone bad will come in,” Wise concurred. “Having fewer access points will go a long way to making the school safer. The screens and wooden inserts will make it harder to access rooms and the building.”
Both Routch and Wise hope that their job of connecting with students will also help the kids of Brockway feel less apprehensive about police officers. This is an aspect that drives their daily interactions.
“Kids get a lot of bad vibes from police,” Routch said. “I see a lot of this at a family restaurant. A family comes in and they have little kids with them, and they act up, and the parents say, ‘If you guys don’t wise up, I’ll have the police arrest you.’ From then on, we get a bad rap. But if you think about it, if you feel victimized or are in a bad situation, who do you call?”
“Working with the kids, getting to know them and build a relationship with them is exciting,” Wise said. “I live in this community. This is a chance to get to know the kids who live here in my town.”