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March 11, 2010

Looking up to those who are always looking out

by Natalie Rutsch, Page Editor
A team hailed as one of the best in the county protects the halls of Blair everyday. Clad in blue uniforms, they roam the hallways, ready to jump into action whenever trouble arises.

According to Wayne Ferrell, Downcounty cluster security coordinator, Blair's security staff are highly effective guards and disciplinarians because of the relationships they build with students. "You have an excellent security team - probably one of the best in the county," says Ferrell, "In order to run a successful security team, it's all about good relationships with students.

The tight bond between the security team and the student body is immediately evident to anyone who's ever seen security assistant Adrian Kelly cheerfully greet students by the main doors in the morning, security team leader Cedric Boatman coaching the basketball team after school or any other security guard exchanging words with Blazers as they glide through throngs of students in the hallways between classes. The security team, which hired four new security assistants this year to replace retiring guards, cultivates a genial relationship with students that promotes school safety and offers Blazers a parental figure, a mentor or just a friendly face.

Guarding with glee

Each of those friendly faces fosters a safer school environment. Boatman says that any kind of security work, from police to school security, revolves around developing relationships. "I'm not going to hire you if you can't build relationships with kids," he says.

According to psychologist Karen Wittmann, friendliness with security guards could encourage students who tend to act out against authority to follow directions. Wittmann says that while misbehavers don't usually recognize security's legitimate authority - their position of power - they may recognize their referent authority - their power as a result of the student thinking highly of them. "You'll listen to them or obey them because you have a personal connection, so what they say is more meaningful," says Wittmann.

This close student-security bond also opens up a channel of communication between students and security, especially at Blair. According to Peter Ponchowski, executive director of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers (NASSLEO), students who are close with security guards are more likely to talk to security about potentially dangerous situations developing in the school. "It's better to have a thousand eyes than 100 cameras," says Ponchowski. An open line of communication can also help students talk out their problems before they escalate into violence, according to Ferrell. "An important responsibility as a security assistant is to make sure that kids feel they can come to you," he says. And Blazers do, according to Kelly. For instance, Kelly says that a few weeks ago he was outside after school when a student told him that there was about to be a fight by the school store. The security team was able to shut down the potential conflict.

Exceeding expectations

But this open line of communication between security and students is not explicitly required in their job description - members of the security team surpass their normal responsibilities to reach out to Blazers. Boatman says that the security staff goes above their job expectations because they genuinely care for students. "We do it for the kids. That's it, point blank," says Boatman. Boatman says that the security guards discuss among themselves ways to help students who chronically disobey rules. They talk to parents, teachers and administrators when a student is having a problem, whether it be in class, at home or with another student. "They're going beyond their duties and responsibilities to make sure you're okay as a person," Ferell says.

Boatman is a prime example. "He's always been the type of person who is a paternal figure to students," says Ferrell, who used to coach with Boatman. Going on his 11th year at Blair, Boatman, who coaches varsity boys' basketball, has mentored many students that have passed through Blair's walls. The seven former Blair basketball players currently playing on college teams are just a few of the alums that have benefitted from Boatman's guidance. He shared his experiences with the graduates, describing everything from the admissions process, to the work ethic expected on college teams.

Boatman treasures seeing the positive academic and behavioral transformation that some students can undergo with guidance from himself and the security assistants. "You can see the progress. A lot of times you can see the growth. That's the reward," he says. He says with pride that former students he worked with now have jobs with Comcast, the police force and the government, to name a few.

Keeping an eye out

A member of Boatman's security team, Kelly seems to know an impossible number of Blazers. Kelly estimates that he knows a third of the Blazers by name, and all of the Blazers by face. "Any kid who walks in the building, I recognize if they go here," says Kelly. Outside the security office in the physical education hallway, Kelly greets students who trickle toward after-school sports workouts. After eight years as a security guard at Blair, his alma mater, Kelly has made it a point to develop close bonds with Blazers.

Kelly, who also coaches JV boys' lacrosse and JV football, connects with students through shared interests, such as videogames and football. He's taken students out to lunch and even played Playstation 3 with some students at his house. In addition to the bond over common hobbies, he can relate to students' struggles in the classroom. "When I was in school, academically I didn't focus as hard as I could've," says Kelly. For this reason, Kelly encourages students to try their best in classes; he keeps an eye out for students averaging under a 2.0 and helps them by encouraging them to go to academic support and organize their schoolwork

Kelly reached out to one particularly memorable student a few years ago, when the student, a sophomore at the time, was considering quitting the JV football team over a dispute with the coaches. Kelly pulled the student aside to encourage him to be mature and respect his coaches. As the Blazer listened to Kelly, his GPA and athletic talent blossomed, leading him to a fruitful football career at Villanova University (2009 National Champions). "He'll be a groomsmen at my wedding in two months," says Kelly.

Slipping through the cracks

But regardless of their success stories, Kelly confesses that he and other members of security can't help every student. "You try to reach all of them, but you can't get them all, some slip through the cracks." Boatman has experienced the same thing. While he has seen students with behavioral problems make changes that land them in respectable jobs, he's also seen students end up in sad situations. "I have one who's incarcerated for 10 years. It goes both ways," Boatman says.

Instead of dwelling on such students, Boatman chooses to focus on students who are responsive to his helping hand. "I'll help anybody, but the ones I can't reach, I don't worry about. Help those that want to be helped," he says.

And that's exactly what the security team does with Blazers - they develop close relationships with students so that they can provide a support net when a student breaks rules, faces confusion over college or just needs a few kind words to brighten their day.

To Ferrell, who praises Blair security as top-notch in their ability to connect with students, an important aspect of the job is knowing their students so they can reach out to help students if they sense a problem. "I call it having your finger on the pulse of the school building," he says.



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