Bell Elementary students learned not to be scared…but to be prepared this school year
The staff at Bell Elementary know what it feels like to plant a seed and see it grow, especially when it comes to an important subject like school safety. The seed started with a Buddy program launched a couple of years ago. The school district saw the impact a school resource officer could have and appreciated having a greater law enforcement presence on campus.
The Kentucky State Police encourage their troopers to make school visits to better meet the needs of the counties they serve. Kentucky State Police Trooper Matt Parmley, who is assigned to cover Wayne County, knew his local school system had a resource officer (currently there are now two SRO’s on campus) who concentrated his efforts on middle and high school students when that program started, so Trooper Parmley realized there was a need at the elementary level to provide greater coverage. The new buddy program was a perfect fit so it was not long before Trooper Matt Parmley had “adopted” over 400 students at Bell Elementary School, so to speak, in an attempt to improve school safety awareness.
“It has been fun for me,” said Trooper Parmley. He explained that it was hard to cover all of the elementary schools, but he knew by focusing his efforts at Bell Elementary, he would eventually get to meet the younger students coming from Walker Early Learning Center.
The Wayne County High School 2004 graduate easily struck up conversations with the youngsters, taking a sincere interest in them and providing excellent mentoring skills, even while off duty. It was not uncommon to see him in the library reading to a child or helping in a classroom gaining the trust of the students.
“I thought it was also important for them to see an officer out of uniform, so that they would see I was just a normal person,” noted Trooper Parmley. So, he would stop by during his off duty time too.
“Trooper Parmley was very consistent in visiting our school and took great pride in being a Buddy in our volunteer program,” explained Bell Elementary Principal Derrick Harris. The principal greatly appreciated Trooper Parmley’s help mentoring students. At times, he would deliberately match him up with students who might be struggling or in need of some attention.
Fast forward to the 2018 high school shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, that seemed to spark a resurgence of proactive school safety measures across the country. While always placing student safety first, Wayne County Schools decided to revisit this concern, by providing Non-Traditional Instruction Days to students while the staff spent two-days training for something they hope will never happen. They learned about multiple options on how to respond during the invasion of a violent intruder. A team of state police troopers, backed up by local law enforcement officers, came to the campus and provided valuable information and mock scenarios where the staff acted out their responses to a pretend violent intruder incident. They also provided tips on how to make their classrooms safer in the future.
With this updated training under their belt, teachers began acquainting students with procedures on how to react in this type of emergency. They took a gentle approach with their students, especially the younger children, so they would not be scared to learn how to defend themselves.
Bell Elementary Arts and Humanities Teacher Susan Helms used a more child-friendly shepherd and wolf scenario to teach the children how to follow their teacher (the shepherd) and defend themselves against the wolf (the intruder), after her online research led her to award-winning children’s author Julia Cook’s work. Her “I’m not scared….I’m Prepared! Activity and Idea Book” is a companion piece to the ALICE Training Institute.
During this initial process, teachers discovered that some of the first and second grade students seemed to express a deep fear and anger toward the subject of police officers becoming their friend, due to family situations that had apparently occurred in their homes, previously. The children viewed the police as someone that takes you away to jail, rather than a protector or someone who can rescue you in an emergency.
“I began to notice when talking about Trooper Parmley as our “Trooper Friend” and then him actually visiting us and talking with the students, there was a lift in sentiment about police and their intentions,” said Helms. “A more positive perception evolved, with the students sharing with me the last few weeks of the previous school year that they wanted to grow up and be a Trooper!”
“He is so cool,” they would say to me, noted Helms.
With Parmley launching such a positive outreach inside the school, Helms and her colleague P.E. Teacher Lois Bradley were excited to have the privilege to participate in A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training shortly thereafter, last summer in Williamsburg. The Williamsburg Police Department hosted the two-day instructor certification training, which is the leading program for response to violent critical incidents (VCI). VCI are man-made forms of violent disaster, including active shooter, violent intruder, mass shooting, terrorism, workplace violence, and other unexpected tragedies.
The mission of ALICE is to save lives – this training program empowers individuals to make their own survival decisions using proactive response strategies, should they be faced with violence. ALICE can be described as a “seatbelt” – it is a necessary evil – hope you never need it, but if an incident does occur, it will reduce casualties.
Both ladies experienced hands-on demonstrations, participated in practical scenarios, evaluation drills, learned about the new standard of care as described in government agency documents and major associations’ guidelines, and passed a test covering the history of active shooter events in America, along with lessons learned from previous active shooter events.
Following the course, the teachers experienced a great source of knowledge and empowerment from the training. They could not wait to share it with the staff at Bell Elementary this past school year. In fact, Helms was officially able to put her ALICE certification to use on a snow day last January to train the entire Bell Elementary staff on this proactive safety program.
Being the exceptional, veteran teachers that they are, they were anxious to put their knowledge to work for their students. With Trooper Parmley’s encouragement and their principal’s nod of approval, Helms developed a plan to invite local officers and deputies to help build an Officer Friend program. She realized how much progress they had already experienced with Trooper Parmley’s visits, but he was only one person. So, last summer, she worked with Sheriff Tim Catron, retired Police Chief Ralph Miniard, current Police Chief Joe Bybee and Sheriff Deputy Cody Neal to establish an “Adopt A Classroom” program so more children would benefit.
“I was a little hesitant about our meeting, but I was thrilled when I realized they were as excited as I was about this project,” said Helms.
While Trooper Parmley continued to participate, local policemen and sheriff deputies willingly volunteered to visit the school and periodically be a part of the daily routine. They dined with the students in the school cafeteria and participated in everything from field day to literacy events. They embraced the project much like the teachers had and were repeatedly rewarded with kindness, as they became a part of the school environment.
Tremendous strides were made in changing perceptions about law enforcement, not to mention the benefits of having closer ties to them as they became more familiar with the building and its occupants. Because of this program, it is not uncommon now to see a police or sheriff’s cruiser parked outside the front of the school and the public not getting worried that there is something wrong inside the building. It became normal, much like the existence of two School Resource Officers on campus who work through a partnership with the sheriff and school district.
Not only have the students learned more to appreciate law enforcement, but the staff have learned from them too. By being better acquainted with the officers’ world, Helms said, “I began to understand the stress and hardship of being a law enforcement officer.”
Helms is very appreciative to Trooper Parmley who has served as a role model for this process that has benefitted the children at Bell Elementary. “He would reinforce what I’d throw at him…to make sure I was on the right track. He kept cheering me on through this process.”
“The staff at Bell Elementary care about the students’ well-being and these two teachers (Helms and Bradley) took the initiative as far as creating the schools’ training and safety instruction. They deserve a lot of credit for this. They spearheaded the whole thing,” noted Trooper Parmley.
Parmley and a team of fellow troopers provide safety training in the KSP Post 11, seven county area. He often uses the two local teachers as an example when they conduct trainings at other elementary schools. “They were able to mold this safety instruction to meet the needs of first and second graders, in a non-fearful way while still being effective,” explained Trooper Parmley.
By the end of the school year this past May, the students and staff had become huge fans of the law officials. Their enthusiasm culminated in the school’s first Police Appreciation Program, which included an assembly and Officers’ Parade down the hallways decorated with student artwork and thank you notes written on age-appropriate lined paper. They went all out displaying the heartfelt police themed student work and decorations adorning the hallways at the school wide celebration.
It was a happy ending for everyone. The assembly featured Kim Lasley’s second grade class with a skit and student performers. The officers in attendance were presented with pins symbolizing “strength and courage to enforce all that is right.” Helms presented Wayne County Sheriff Tim Catron, Police Chief Joe Bybee and KSP Trooper Matt Parmley with plaques of appreciation.
The officers were overwhelmed with all the love and affection that the students and staff showed them, especially since they so often deal with the negative sides of life in their occupations.
“The support and relationships these officers built with our students have been nothing short of awesome! Initially, our students were a little hesitant to even say hello! Yet, with their ongoing presence and support, they quickly became rock stars! We are truly appreciative of their ongoing support and presence within our school,” said Bell Elementary Principal Derrick Harris.
A Successful Year in Review
Bell Elementary Teachers Susan Helms and Lois Bradley obtained their ALICE certification at a training hosted by the Williamsburg Police Department in the summer of 2018
(Above and below) Kentucky State Trooper Matt Parmley shared the microphone at a student gathering
(L-R) Policeman Mike Neal and Police Chief Joe Bybee with students on the playground
Policeman Gordon Stephens speaking to a class at Bell
Deputy Cody Neal with children in a classroom at Bell
Policeman Ronnie Ellis II chatting with students
Deputy Cody Neal handing out snacks
Police Chief Joe Bybee visited a classroom in October
Deputy James Barnett on the playground with the children
(L-R) Deputy Jerry Coffey and Sheriff Tim Catron with students in a classroom
Kentucky State Trooper Matt Parmley reading to the children
(L-R) Teacher Susan Helms, Trooper Matt Parmley, and Teacher Lois Bradley worked together on the school safety initiative
Deputy Jerry Coffey in the school cafeteria with students
(L-R) Deputy Cody Neal, Sheriff Tim Catron, Policeman Mike Neal, Policeman Josh Ashbery, Deputy Jerry Coffey, Deputy James Barnett, Police Chief Joe Bybee, and State Trooper Matt Parmley eating breakfast at Officer Appreciation Day
Sheriff Tim Catron with one of his twin granddaughters at Bell Elementary
Deputy Cody Neal helped teacher Lois Bradley entertain the children at field day
(L-R) Police Chief Joe Bybee and student Kaleb Hancock at field day
Students wrote letters to thank the law enforcement officers for their service
Teachers decorated their doors to commemorate the law enforcement officers contributions
Deputy James Barnett pose with a class of students for a picture during a classroom visit
Officer Mike Neal in Heather Lewis' 2nd grade classroom
Bell Elementary Buddy Program 2017-18
State Trooper Matt Parmley enjoyed getting acquainted with Bell Elementary second graders
State Trooper Matt Parmley enjoys working on literacy skills by reading with students in the library
Click here to see the Alice Training Institute website