The St. Joseph School District has been using school resource officers from the police and sheriff’s departments for a number of years. But another group is providing vital program support to the city’s four middle schools: Bode, Robidoux, Spring Garden and Truman.
Since 2002, the Juvenile Office for the Fifth Judicial Circuit has been working with St. Joseph School District middle school students and their families, said Linda Meyer, the chief juvenile officer.
Bode and Robidoux each have one deputy, Spring Garden has two deputies and Truman has three deputies.
This juvenile program works with between 1,200 and 1,500 students each year. Each juvenile worker deals with some 200 to 300 students but the number can be higher or lower as needed, said Ann Becerra, who’s one of three juvenile intake workers.
“Less than 10 percent of those students are involved in a formal juvenile case with court appearances before Circuit Judge Patrick Robb or Daniel Kellogg,” Meyer said. “Just because a student doesn’t go to court doesn’t mean nothing’s being done about their bad choices.”
Juvenile workers know early intervention is the most effective way to reduce problems and find strengths, which can help students grow. Their informal program seeks to use existing community resources to assist in dealing with a student’s issues, whether it’s health issues, food needs, basic necessities or other problems.
Identifying students strengths and needs is critical in developing an individual plan to deal with student issues.
“Our goal is to watch them become self-sufficient and begin making good choices in their school, home and the community,” said Angie Fisher, a deputy juvenile officer. “We’re in the schools because we want students to know they can talk with us.”
Being present in the schools allows deputies to identify issues before they become problems.
Fisher saw a need for an activity program and developed a successful ping pong program, which meets after school keeping students off the street for an hour or so. The ping pong activity program is open to any middle school student and allows deputies to converse with students in a nonthreatening environment.
Becerra observed students having difficulties with social media programs on their phones and computers.
“Its a huge thing for students,” Becerra said.
She developed a program, which deals with appropriate and inappropriate commenting, how to identify signs of predators, ways to avoid getting involved with unknown persons and other issues.
Becerra said this program works and is now offered in grades four through eight, and parents can receive the same training, she said.
The effort in the informal cases is to redirect the student before their activities become a formal case, Meyer said. It all focuses on identifying student strengths and finding ways to assist them with appropriate responses and activities, she said.