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Officer provides calming presence in Jefferson High School

September 13, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - Police officer Ronald Fletcher has been mixing with Jefferson High School students for less than two weeks and some of them already are confiding in him about personal issues.

Fletcher, the first prevention resource officer to work at Jefferson High in about eight years, said some students have been talking to him freely about problems they are having at home and similar issues.

"They'll talk to me before they talk to anyone else," Fletcher said Tuesday in an interview at the school.

Fletcher, a corporal with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, is stationed at the school to prevent problems such as skipping and ensure the safety of kids going to school there.

School prevention officers are commonplace in schools in metropolitan areas and Fletcher's position is being funded through $28,000 in state funds and about $22,000 from Jefferson County Schools.

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Although being at Jefferson High School is Fletcher's primary responsibility, he is still on staff at the sheriff's department and can respond to calls in an emergency.

The sheriff's department last had an officer stationed at the school about eight years ago.

School officials said they wanted to have a school prevention officer again at Jefferson High to help control problems such as students who skip class. Students sometimes skip class and loiter in nearby Shenandoah Junction, school officials said.

Fletcher said he has caught a couple of kids skipping class since school resumed Aug. 31 and the problem seems to have cleared up since he has been at the school.

School officials said they also wanted Fletcher to be at the school to help the facility deal with possible issues related to gang activity as gangs spread from more-populated areas to the east.

Fletcher said he has not noticed any gang activity.

"I'm getting feedback that they like me being here," Fletcher said, referring to the student body. "I haven't had anything negative. I've been surprised."

Not only have students been confiding with Fletcher about personal issues, Fletcher said students will tell him about problems before they happen.

In his daily routine, Fletcher, armed and dressed in his sheriff's department uniform, periodically walks around the outside of the high school to make sure students are inside the building and are getting to class. He also keeps an eye out for any students using alcohol or tobacco on school grounds. Fletcher's office is in a small room with a window that offers him a good view of the entrance.

Fletcher also will be in the classroom where he'll teach classes that deal with crime scene investigation, domestic violence, criminal justice and alcohol-related issues.

"It lets me get into the classroom and have students interact with me and see what I'm like," Fletcher said.

Fletcher, 25, of Charles Town, grew up in the Kabletown area of Jefferson County and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1999.

In 2001, Fletcher got his start in law enforcement at the sheriff's department and has worked as an accident reconstructionist and a supervisor at the sheriff's department in addition to his regular duties.

Fletcher also is active in the Citizens Fire Co. in Charles Town. Fletcher is vice president of the fire department, which gives him the responsibility of helping to run the department, and he drives firetrucks and fights fires.

"It keeps me on my toes. It doesn't keep me home much, but it keeps me on my toes," Fletcher said.

Nikkia Jackson, a senior at Jefferson High, said most students like Fletcher. Fletcher blends well with the student body because he is "not trying to regulate" anyone.

"He's kind of like a normal person," Jackson said.

"I think it's a pretty good idea. It makes me feel safer," said student Lauren Legg.

Some students are not fond of having a school prevention officer, said senior Preston Reynolds.

"They feel they're being watched all the time," Reynolds said.

But Reynolds said he thinks there will be less trouble with Fletcher around.

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