CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – As students learn to navigate school halls, school resource officers are making sure they are learning in a safe environment.
City and county police departments partner with the school district to provide a full-time police officer at designated schools. At Conway High School, Conway Police Officer Johnathan Guiles is going into his first full year as the school resource officer. He has been working in law enforcement since 1995. He's been a school resource officer for three years, first in Georgetown and now in Conway.
"I'm their friend, their mentor, their guide," says Officer Guiles. "My job is to help them make that transition. Not only from middle to high school. From high school to life."
He works to create an atmosphere where the students can feel safe and free of distractions so they can focus on learning. He says he also works hard to encourage the students to trust police officers.
Officer Guiles starts his day off by making sure the school is secure. At the high school, students are searched for weapons before entering the building. Then he spends the rest of the day interacting with students in the halls, visiting in the classroom, eating lunch with them, and even sticking around for practices.
"I'm letting them know I'm here for them," says Officer Guiles. "I'm not going to let anything happen to them. It's a great deal. It makes for a safe learning environment. And they learn more if they know that the environment that they're working in is actually safe."
He says for some students, coming to school can be a bit of a shock because they're not used to structure at home. But he's here to help them navigate the system and be successful.
There are triggers he looks for throughout the day. As he's interacting with students, he's looking to see if someone isn't making eye contact, looking depressed, or wanting to be along all the time. Officer Guiles says those are some of the clues he's needs to dig deeper to find out what's really going on and see if he can help.
"A lot of times, kids come to school having a bad experience at home," says Officer Guiles. "So making that transition from home to school in the morning can be difficult. But as long as they know I'm here for them, they won't be afraid to approach the police."
School resource officers must go through specialized training and be certified before working in a school. They also must have the right personality to work with kids. Officer Guiles says a lot of the training helps the SRO's understand how teens work. You cannot approach or correct teens the way you would adults.
He just finished some specialized training a couple weeks ago. The instructors taught SRO's that teens do not have a fully developed brain. And their brains won't finish developing until around 25 years old. So SRO's need to expect students to do things they shouldn't do and say things they shouldn't say. Officer Guiles says what society might consider as "acting out" is just a call for direction and a second chance.
"I'm here to basically be a guardrail on both sides of a bridge to help keep the kids in the middle," says Officer Guiles.
SRO's also must complete extra training throughout the year on specific topics, like how to handle an active shooter situation. The officers also must pass tests each month. If they do not pass, they could be required to complete remedial training through the police department.
"When the kids are happy, I'm happy. When the staff is happy, I'm happy. You can't ask for a better atmosphere," says Officer Guiles.
If you would like to get in touch with Officer Guiles, you can call the Conway High School at (843) 248-0662. If you are interested in learning more about your kids' school resource officer program, call the administration office and someone will direct you.