By Jason Wesseldyk
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, school districts throughout the country took time to recognize the efforts of school resource officers as part of National School Resource Officer Appreciation Day.
That included Plainwell Community Schools and Otsego Public Schools.
Plainwell Department of Public Safety officer Bob Farris has served as the PCS resource officer for the past several years, while Otsego Police Department officer Judd Sikkema began in that capacity at OPS at the beginning of this school year.
PCS superintendent Matthew Montange had nothing but praise for the work Farris does in the district.
“Bob has a positive impact on both students, staff and parents on a daily basis,” Montange said. “Bob and I both make an effort to be present at different buildings in the morning when students are arriving at school. He greets students and parents, talks with staff and really focuses on giving students a smile and positive interaction to start their day.
“I have watched Bob ties shoes, zip coats, open and close car doors, hug crying children, calm down angry parents and process with struggling staff. He just sets a positive example, period. There is no one more dedicated to our district and Plainwell than Officer Bob Farris. He is the epitome of Plainwell pride and lives it daily.”
Farris came to his current position with a unique background.
Not only did he attend and graduate from Plainwell High School, but he also served as a teacher, administrator and middle school athletic director in the district before retiring from education.
“After graduation from high school I was torn between a career in law enforcement and education,” Farris said. “While I have served in those various capacities at school for more than 35 years, I also went through the police academy 25 years ago and worked for the City of Plainwell as a part time officer for a number of years.
“I have the best of both careers in my current position as an educator and our district safety officer in our schools.”
In his role as PCS safety director and school liaison officer, Farris is responsible for overall district safety including: building security, emergency response, staff training, building drills, some student discipline situations, maintaining district safety radios, student behavior intervention, teaching safety lessons to classes and maintaining communications with both Plainwell Public Safety and Allegan County Sheriff.
“Bob is successful because he develops relationships with everyone, even in very difficult situations,” Montange said. “He has very high standards and expectations for our students but can hold kids to those without hard feelings because they know he cares and has their best interest at heart.
“As for staff, they love Bob and know that he is a unique resource for our district that is not available in other districts. Having connections and relationships with people allows Bob to put a personal touch on often tough situations, which results in much better outcomes that we might otherwise expect.”
Farris listed his interactions with students and staff as the best part of his job.
“Giving back and serving has always been important to me,” he said. “I was raised in a family that put others’ needs before our own and I strive to follow that model. I had many great teachers and role models throughout my childhood and teenage years in Plainwell who have left me with a lot of great memories and a desire to give back to our community.
“It’s important to have a good relationship between our staff and students at school, our school families and law-enforcement. A school resource officer position focuses on being a counselor and mentor, an educator and a police officer for our school community and school families.”
While Farris has been involved in PCS as a student, staff member and now resource officer, Sikkema began his experience with OPS last September. That’s when he started as the district’s resource officer.
“I believe the first year is going really well,” Sikkema said. “Otsego Schools has fully embraced having me as their SRO and the students have been very welcoming as well. Every school I have gone to has welcomed me with open arms and they are extremely happy that they have an SRO.”
As was the case with Farris, Sikkema cites the time he spends having direct contact with students as the highlights of his day.
“The favorite parts of my job are building relationships with students at all ages by building trust and bridging the gap between law enforcement and community,” he said. “I also enjoy having daily conversations with students about life in general and learning about their lives and them learning about me.
“The students see me as Officer Judd and they constantly come up to me and give me high-fives or just ask how it’s going.”
Although Sikkema visits all the school buildings in the district—Otsego High School, Otsego Middle School, Washington Street Elementary, Dix Street Elementary and Alamo Elementary—he spends the bulk of his time at the high school.
OHS principal Thomas Reed has seen first-hand the difference Sikkema has made at the school.
“Judd has had a tremendously positive impact on the students here,” Reed said. “He’s quick to greet them, and many students come up to initiate conversations with him. He’s also very willing to jump into different activities like snowcoming volleyball or grilling hotdogs on nice days.”
According to Reed, Sikkema’s responsibilities vary based on the day and situation.
“On a typical day, he could be helping us conduct vehicle checks, talking to students at the elementary or middle school, following up on conversations he’s had with parents and students, checking doors to ensure they are locked, or wandering the hallways talking to students and staff” Reed said. “He also helps us in crisis situations, both surrounding student mental health and school safety situations.”
It’s school safety that is at the forefront of Sikkema’s mind each day.
I believe that having an SRO is important because it helps build trust between law enforcement and the community,” he said. “I also believe that it is important for school safety and having a police officer assigned to the schools keeps the school safer.
“My job as an SRO is to be a law enforcement officer, an educator through educating staff and students about laws and an informal counselor. All three of those roles combined help build trust within the student population and law enforcement community.”
Reed said the results of a recent student input meeting indicated that simply seeing Sikkema in the hallways of the school made students feel like the district valued school safety.
“We’re lucky to have Officer Judd here,” Reed said. “He’s been a great addition to the staff and we value his contributions highly.”