KAYSVILLE — Teaching kids to stay away from drugs is just a small portion of what Kaysville Junior High School resource police officer Ryan Wilko does.
Wilko also spends several hours a week in junior high classrooms teaching students skills from the DARE “Keepin’ It Real” program they can use to interact with each other and with others. The 10 lessons, each about 45 minutes long, deal with topics to help teenagers in real-life situations avoid drugs, alcohol or other inappropriate behavior.
Wilko also spends time each week at Windridge, Snow Horse and Columbia elementary schools as their DARE officer.
“He connects with all the kids,” said Amie Huggins, seventh-grade Utah studies and geography teacher. “They just love him. My kids would rather have him than me.”
Wilko has been patrolling the hallways of the schools for six years. When he got into law enforcement 15 years ago, he didn’t consider being a school resource office, but when the opening came up, he applied.
“I’ve learned there more’s to policing than I thought,” Wilko said.
By being visible in the schools daily, Wilko said, he is taking a proactive stance in police work, rather than reactive.
Recently, Wilko taught a classroom of students how to communicate verbally and nonverbally.
He talked about how a group of teenagers he knew decided to egg a home. Several of them said afterward they really didn’t want to, but didn’t know how to say no.
Wilko told the students to notice what others are doing when someone is making a suggestion for an inappropriate activity.
“Do your other friends have their hands in the pocket? Are they stepping away? Is their head down?” Wilko said. “If so, they may be feeling uncomfortable too.”
Wilko said watching others nonverbal communication signs will make it easier for them to speak out.
“I want them to learn how to avoid situations they’re not comfortable with and also how to get out of situations that are bad,” he said.
Principal Curtis Stromberg said, “Ryan (Wilko) makes the connection with the kids because he’s not rotating every year. They have the same officer year after year, and that’s what kids need.”
Because of his work, Kaysville Junior High School cheerleaders decided they wanted to help the city’s DARE program. They are selling red ribbon suckers for $1 and hope to raise $500 by Tuesday.
At that time, they want to present Wilko, Police Chief Sol Oberg and Mayor Steve Hiatt with a check at an assembly as part of Red Ribbon Week, said Tricia Bishop, the cheerleader adviser.