Even though they were not officially on duty, five deputies from the Lucas County Sheriff's Department were on hand last week to escort students from The Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls on a field trip.
The deputies provided visibility to ensure that the 35 seventh and eighth graders who were walking from the academy's swing-site location, 124 West Woodruff Ave., to the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle for a concert would get there safely.
It's not unusual to see up to 10 deputies in the halls at the school at various times throughout the school year. For the last four years, the deputies have been volunteering time to mentor the students, assist them with reading, give them advice, or provide security through the Lucas County Sheriff's Mentoring Program, said sheriff's Maj. John Tharp, who coordinates the program.
"As opposed to mentoring one-on-one, we are all-inclusive," he said. "We go to the school and are available. We stop in the cafeteria, talk to the kids, read with the kids, and some officers just like to stop in and say hello."
The deputies will generally stop by the school unannounced when they find some time on their hands before or after work or on their days off.
Other times, they're asked to be there at certain times in uniform for visibility and security reasons, academy Principal William Keaton said.
"The girls enjoy the deputies around them and the parents feel good that we have the deputies around the building serving as mentors," he said.
Major Tharp said the deputies are focusing their volunteer efforts at Stewart Academy because the school is close to the sheriff's department in downtown Toledo and because there aren't enough deputies to volunteer at more schools in Lucas County.
"If you stay focused and concentrate on your one school, you can make a big difference there," he said. "But I certainly would like to have more officers volunteer."
Putting police officers in schools for mentoring is not a new concept. In fact, while he was employed by the Toledo Police Department, Major Tharp said he was involved in a mentoring program that sent officers to the Toledo Public School District's Jones and Robinson junior high schools.
"We try to make this educational, and it's a way of giving back to the community," Major Tharp said. "It's a win-win."