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‘Important to stay close to students’

Catasauqua Area School District currently has two school resource officers, Officer Jenna Dumansky-Potak and Officer Pat Best. Both have devoted countless hours to the students in the CASD.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, they initiated the Chalk Your Walk campaign to keep the children engaged and their spirits high. Make sure you keep an eye out for Flat Pat, a chalk drawing of a police officer who continues to pop up around town. They also began doing daily storytimes virtually on Facebook to connect with the younger children in the area.

Regarding the return to five-day in-person classes for the 2020-21 school year, the SROs expected to see a lot less students in classes this year. This expectation was correct, as nearly 40 percent of the district’s students are attending classes online.

They shared their concerns regarding parent drop-off and pickups at the schools. There were a lot of procedural changes implemented to make this year as safe as possible, and the SROs report the new systems are flowing well.

“We put measures in place to keep the traffic flow moving around the school and so local traffic was not affected,” Dumansky-Potak said.

Another concern was if the students would adjust well to wearing face masks and following social distancing guidelines.

“The students have been handling the face masks very well,” Dumansky-Potak said.

According to reports from the school principals at the CASD school board meeting Sept. 8, the students are adapting well to the new restrictions and rules.

As important as safety is, the SROs also aim to keep the students healthy, both physically and mentally.

“We were concerned over the mental health of students and being away from school for so many months,” Dumansky-Potak said. “So far, everyone seems to be in good spirits and they are supporting each other.”

To prepare for the school year, Best and Dumansky-Potak discussed good ways to connect with the students.

One thing they thought of was wearing face shields at the elementary school instead of the face masks.

“Officer Best and I felt that students in elementary school would be scared if our faces were covered,” Dumansky-Potak said. “A face shield allows the students to see our faces and see our mouths when speaking.”

They also plan to continue holding their virtual storytime. They noted they are recording some special books for the upcoming holidays. Be sure to check out the Catasauqua Police Department’s Facebook page to watch the storytime videos.

Dumansky-Potak also reported she and Best implemented the JD Potak Rocks program, similar to LV Rocks. The two SROs distributed painted rocks throughout Catasauqua and North Catasauqua boroughs the week before school started. They will continue to spread more rocks throughout the community for residents and students to enjoy.

“We would like to include students in the rock painting but have not gotten around to putting this in place yet,” she noted.

One thought on this next step in the program is to have a table set up at community events, such as the annual holiday tree lighting, and encouraging students to come up and paint their own rocks, which they can then distribute around the community.

One big focus for the SROs is keeping the school community connected with the larger communities in the boroughs. This instills a sense of connection and belonging for the students, both in the schools and their neighborhoods at large.

To further stay connected to students, the SROs wanted to be sure to interact with the students attending classes online as well.

“We also started reading to the virtual students in Mrs. Murphy’s kindergarten class,” Dumansky-Potak said. “Our first live reading was last week, and we plan to read as often as we can. We would also like to get in the schools for live readings to the students.”

According to Dumansky-Potak, they had planned on expanding the Flat Pat program by creating a laminated version of the chalk drawing. Each week a different student would take him home and document their adventures together.

“This program will be put on hold due to having to share the Flat Pat,” she noted. “But we may find a way to start something similar, possibly an emailed photo of Flat Pat they can print out at home.”

The SROs have noted their relationships with the students are better than before the world changed due to COVID-19.

“We feel that the students see we are also wearing masks and following social-distance guidelines, which gives them the feeling that we are all in this together,” Dumansky-Potak said. “With everything going on in the world with COVID-19 and the riots, we feel it is important to stay close to the students.”

To help achieve this closeness, the SROs have been assisting with making welfare checks to students in the district.

“Officer Best and I will go out to a residence and assist the student with getting online or address what their issue is,” Dumansky-Potak noted. “We can then contact the school and explain what the student needs help with.”

Their assistance does not end at the school doors or even with the students themselves.

“We want the community to know that if they need anything to reach out,” Dumansky-Potak urged. “The students can reach out to us, and we are happy to help. The parents can also reach out to us to assist. There are a lot of students home doing virtual, so we do want to make sure they have the resources they need.

“We are very happy to be working in the schools, with the students and in the community,” she added. “With all of the bad press around police officers, Officer Best and I feel it is even more important to show our community that we are here, we are going to stay strong and we will continue to keep them safe.”

PRESS FILE PHOTO Jenna Dumansky-Potak and Pat Best are the school resource officers in the Catasauqua Area School District.