For the second straight year, a member of the Marana Police Department has been named the state’s School Resource Officer of the Year for their work in the Marana Unified School District.
Melissa Larkin received the award during last week’s Arizona School Resource Officer Association Conference, being honored for her service and dedication to the students and community of Marana Middle School.
Larkin completed her second year working with seventh and eighth graders at the school and has forged strong relationships with the students, parents, teachers and staff.
“I teach an internet safety class which every seventh grader will take at some point,” Larkin said. “There are over 500 seventh graders at Marana Middle and every one of them will spend time in my classroom.”
Larkin logged in some serious hours teaching the course. The federal grant which funds her position requires that she teach 180 hours each school year, but last year she clocked a total of 240 hours.
“Officer Larkin has a classroom that supports safety and collaboration,” said Marana Middle School Principal Heather Pletnick. “She works closely with teachers to establish a curriculum that is timely, educating our students on the dangers of the internet and cyber bullying.”
Cyber bullying is a huge portion of the curriculum, but it also helps students avoid many of the dangers and pitfalls of being on-line. Although students are surfing the net at younger and younger ages, many of the biggest dangers start when budding teenagers start utilizing social media and interacting with others online.
“We talk a lot about the legal ramifications of cyber-bullying and sexting,” Larkin said. “We address how to avoid predators on social media. Overall, I want my students to be informed users of the powerful tools available online, not scared of them. I try to use a debate-based approach in my instruction, so that students can grapple with the challenging questions around using the internet appropriately.”
As important as her class is to the school, her main role as is to interact with the students, connecting with them on a variety of levels, from confidant to mediator to protector. She can be frequently seen making the rounds, whether it be in the lunch room, around the halls or on the ball fields. Many of the students have become quite comfortable with her and they will often tell her their problems, or just the latest tween dramas from around the school. These interactions allow her to get the pulse of the school and more often than not, help diffuse situations before they even arise.
“Officer Larkin has made an indelible impact in her work at Marana Middle School,” Pletnick said. “She represents the rights, the safety, the knowledge, and the relationship skills needed to not only connect with students, but to leave a lasting impact on them.”
Larkin has not only forged relationships with the students, but the teachers as well. Pletnick had high praise for her ability to fit into the “Falcon Family.”
Larkin has also brought the Police Explorers to Marana Middle School, creating an explorers class for the school’s 21st-century grant class.
“(It) allows students the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a police officer,” said Pletnick.
The district has two MPD School Resource Officers within their ranks and both have won the award in successive years. Officer Cole Hunter, who was assigned the past few years to Marana High School, was last year’s recipient of the award.