The Marana Unified School District recently received a little more than $278,000 in grant funding from The Arizona Department of Education for the School Safety Program, which provides additional school resource officers and juvenile probation officers to schools in the district. The grant period is from this August to June 2020.
The district received the competitive, three-year grant for the second time, the first time being in the 2014/2015 school year, when $177,000 was awarded to provide SROs for Marana Middle School and Marana High School. The new grant will continue to provide for an SRO at Marana Middle School. In addition, it will also provide for one Pima County JPO at Tortolita Middle School, one Pima County JPO to serve both Quail Run Elementary and Thornydale Elementary and one JPO to serve both Roadrunner Elementary and Picture Rocks Elementary.
Through continued partnerships with Pima County Sheriff’s and the Marana Police Department, full-time SROs are provided for Mountain View High School, Tortolita Middle School and Marana High School.
“Schools highly appreciate working hand in hand with local law enforcement,” said Tamara Crawley, director of public relations for the district. “It enhances the safety message occurring on campus, and allows students to build relationships with officers.”
According to the Arizona Department of Education, the department received 203 applications for the grant, for funds totaling approximately $21 million.
Dan Godzich, associate superintendent for communications in the Arizona Department of Education, said applications were processed by a group of independent examiners using a rubric. The rubric a requirement to identifying priority focus areas and target populations to serve.
Sgt. Will Hess, who has been with the Marana Police Department for 20 years, said that the School Safety Program grant is a “fantastic” resource for teaching kids about law-related issues and for providing curricula to address issues that might come up on campuses, such as bullying and internet safety.
“If a school develops a problem, there’s a chance the state has a program that [an SRO] can teach on the fly,” he said. “It also gives them a feeling of safety and security for them and staff: having a uniformed police officer on campus that can immediately respond to any threat that may arise.”
Officer Melissa Larkin, the School Resource Officer at Marana Middle School, said that her responsibilities vary from teaching law-related education classes to simply being around campus to answer kids’ questions. Her position is funded by the grant, which mandates that she teach about 180 hours a year and be on campus 80 percent of the time. She estimated that she sees every student on campus five to seven times a year in the different classes she teaches.
“Honestly, a lot of it’s just connecting with the kids,” she said. “It’s making that connection with law enforcement that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
For Larkin, becoming an SRO meant achieving a longtime career goal; as she enters her fourth year with MMS, she said that even the days she comes home exhausted are worth it. She enjoys being able to clear up misconceptions for students. For example, when she explained that “the right to remain silent” is not to force people to stay silent, but to keep them from self incriminating, there was a huge chorus of “Ohhhs” throughout the room.
“Police, for many, seem untouchable,” she said. “I provide that middle link to the community where they can just come and ask me questions, and it’s okay… That’s really good for the community.”
She said parents and staff are appreciative of her work as well. Because the grant cycles start in August and end in June, there was a period over the summer where the future of her grant-funded position was uncertain. Parents, teachers and staff fought for her to stay for another grant cycle.
And, thanks to the grant, she will be.