Several eager hands shot into the air as Police Officer Melita Jefferson sat in a second-grade classroom at Pershing Hill Elementary School and answered questions about being a police officer.
“Why did you want to be a police officer?” one child asked.
“In my community, when I was growing up, police officers were not nice to children, and children were afraid of cops,” Jefferson said. “I thought, ‘How do I change that? By being a police officer!’ ”
Jefferson was one of three police officers who read to students at Pershing Hill on Jan. 18 as part of Maryland Reading Month.
Airmen from the 707th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group also participated as part of Fort Meade’s Partners in Education, or PIE, program.
PIE is a mentorship program between Anne Arundel County Public Schools and military units stationed at Fort Meade. Its mission is to bring military resources and services to AACPS on post to nurture the intellectual, emotional, social and physical growth of children in the Fort Meade community.
“We do about 10 events a year with the school,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Larisa Harrington, the volunteer coordinator. “We do science fair judging, reading days and help with field day.”
Community volunteers also read with the children.
“The kids are happy to see other adults [besides their teachers] reading to them,” said reading specialist Robin Parker. “It’s always nice to have a male role model reading to the boys.”
Connecting With Kids
This was Pvt. Austin D. Higgins’ first event interacting with the community.
“I’m very excited,” said Higgins, a member of the 241st Military Police Detachment. “The main thing I want to do is involve myself in the community as much as I can because when I get out of the service, that’s where I’ll be.”
Higgins was assigned a room, picked a book about former astronaut Buzz Aldrin and headed up to a fifth-grade classroom.
Children sat at desks and on a rug around Higgins as he asked them how their day was going and if they know what a military policeman is.
“I make sure all of you guys are safe,” he said. “You might recognize me from the crosswalk this morning.”
Higgins revealed the title of the book he would be reading: “To The Moon” by Aldrin, who is one of his favorite people.
“I wanted to be an astronaut, but I chose to join the military,” Higgins said.
His declaration was met by applause from the 10- and 11-year-old children.
After the program, 11-year-old Cyanne Chedisk said she likes the activities that offer something extra to her school day.
“It’s something different and enjoyable,” she said. “ It’s nice to spend time with new people and learn about military jobs.”
Cyanne has one activity in mind for the next time the police come to her school: riding in a police car with the siren on.
“It would be cool,” she said.
For third-grader Josh Larkins, having service members and police officers come to his school is exciting.
“It’s cool because they come and read books for us,” he said. “They stop and tell us what words mean that we don’t understand.”
Josh, 9, and his 11-year-old brother have a strong interest in the military, he said. He hopes to see service members come to his school more often.
A Long-Term Benefit
Spending the morning at Pershing Hill is just one of the many activities Jefferson has planned in order to strengthen the relationship between police officers and the community.
“Policing isn’t just pulling people over and being a crossing guard,” Jefferson said. “Policing is so much more.”
She recently organized a Bowl-a-Thon at The Lanes, which was supported by the Anne Arundel County Police Department. Officers and children bowled, took selfies and set up school lunch dates.
Jefferson sees long-term value to these events.
“I’m no longer a stranger [to the community] — that’s the benefit,” she said. “I might be able to approach somebody and get more information because I’ve already built that relationship.”
To build that bridge, Jefferson noted the importance of police officers showing the community who they are by supporting and attending these events.
“You want [police officers who are] motivated, who have heart and passion and want to do these events,” she said. “I’ve had great support from other officers.”