In 2018, Amy Buys, then a third grade teacher and now dean of upper elementary and school safety specialist, saw tensions in society as an opportunity to work with the Grand Rapids Police Department. Excel was in Ray Erickson’s beat when he was working as a GRPD patrol officer, and he began visiting Buys’ classroom.
First with Buys’ students and gradually with the rest of the school, Erickson went from being an outsider as a police officer to a familiar face in the halls at Excel, which has outperformed the local district for 13 years.
“I feel welcome here when I come in,” Erickson said. “Other schools don’t necessarily give us that regard. It makes it easier to come and know that when you do come you can have conversations, you can make decent relationships with people. In other schools it’s difficult to have those experiences.”
Erickson has sat in on math lessons and read to students. He lends his expertise with the logistics of evacuation plans and has been involved in safety drills.
Buys and the team at Excel keep Erickson up to speed on what’s going on at the school, and don’t hesitate to reach out with safety, legal, or police-related questions and safety ideas.
“I see the world a little differently than most people,” he said. “Having that skewed outlook can bring different ideas that other people don’t think about.”
It can be difficult for police officers to build rapport in a school when some students have only had interactions with the police when something bad happens. But the time Erickson has spent with Buys’ students has helped break down some of the barriers they may have seen on TV or experienced at home.
“When there is a problem, there’s a potential that I’ve already had an interaction with a kid or family who has had a problem, and now there’s a friendly face that they’ve already known from outside an enforcement role, and we can talk one on one like people,” he said.
Through his partnership with Buys, Erickson hopes to continue that feeling of trust throughout the entire school, classroom by classroom.
“The kids would be so excited when he would walk down and pop his head in,” Buys said. “We have kids who still talk about it. It just sheds a light of when he does walk in, it’s not ‘Oh no, the police are here,’ it’s ‘Officer Ray is here.’”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Buys and Officer Erickson!
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Excel Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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