By Joe Beck
Rebecca Mauck is happy to be known as a school resource officer, and most definitely doesn't want people to think of her as a guard at the door.
Yes, as a member of the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office she carries a holstered sidearm everywhere she goes at Central High School in Woodstock. And she said she thinks there could be some advantage to having someone, maybe from the school staff, screen visitors as they pass through the building's main entrance.
But Mauck says she sees the most important part of her job as building trust and relationships with the school's 761 students, even when they violate a school rule, even when they break a law that lands them in court.
"That's when the relationship is so key," Mauck said, "whether the student is a victim or a suspect that they have that trust, that they can talk to you."
More than a month has passed since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut thrust the role of school resource officers into the national debate over how to protect school children. The issue also has been raised in Shenandoah County after a man walked into the local Sandy Hook Elementary School with a 2x4 board marked "high-powered rifle." He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Mauck said the atmosphere at Central High School was tense in the aftermath of the school shooting and the board incident.
"I had high school students come in here crying, 'Miss Mauck, please, is someone going to shoot me?'" she recalled.
Mauck told the students that she and the other adults at the school were doing all they could to keep it safe. The anxiety eased after the Christmas break, and the school's collective mood has returned to normal, she said.
Mauck has been with the Sheriff's Office for five years and a school resource officer for three. Before entering law enforcement, she was a teacher's aide for 11 years at Central, where she also coached basketball and softball. The role of school resource officer allows her to draw on her background in two distinct occupations.
"For me, I've got the best of both worlds," she said. "I just love working with kids."
She and the six other school resource officers in the Sheriff's Office also work after school events such as football and basketball games, dances and post-prom activities. Sometimes they are also called away for appearances in court.
As the face of law enforcement on campus, the school resource officer is an authority figure, a role that Mauck said she is comfortable with playing. Her job includes warning students about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and enforcing state laws governing juvenile behavior.
"You treat kids right, you're going to get that respect, even when you're in that authoritative role, " she said.
Mauck said she hopes the discussions about school safety will leave her job essentially intact. Kids need someone to talk to about troubles at home, about other kids who are giving them more trouble than they can handle by themselves, she said.
She doesn't want to lose what she sees as the most important part of her job.
"Intervention talks, we do that as much as anything," she said. "You can gain a lot of information from students if you build that rapport with them."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org