CITY OF ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office has had mentoring and tutoring programs in city schools for some time now, but last fall it launched an additional program in the elementary schools.
Each week, a deputy was assigned to be an elementary school liaison to interact with the kids. Deputy Morgan Garner says when the sheriff’s office first started the program, its office would get a few calls from parents and community members who were concerned about there being a police cruiser outside a school; they wanted to know if something was wrong. That’s an example of the mentality the sheriff’s office is trying to change.
“[Deputies] would talk to [students] about what we do, show them that we’re regular people like they are, no one to be afraid of, and what services we provide to the community and so that way they’ll interact with us in a more positive way,” said Lieutenant Sean Casey.
After school, the deputies would hand out coloring books with a positive message and a pledge to sign at the end. When schools closed, Garner says she felt like she didn’t have much to do for the students. That’s when she noticed they had quite the stockpile of coloring books.
The sheriff’s office has launched Coloring with the Community: every other week the sheriff’s office will post a video to Facebook of a deputy coloring in a coloring book, talking about their job, and encouraging kids to sign the pledge at the end.
Garner knew the elementary school liaison program was making a positive effect in the schools, but the positivity was undeniable when the requests for coloring books started coming in. Most of the requests came from the west end of the city; the neighborhoods the sheriff’s office has been hyper focused on reaching.
“My sergeant and I dropped off the coloring books to everybody’s house and a good amount of the parents and children would be in the window waving and thanking us or they would open up the storm door and see us so it was really great to see that people were excited to receive them,” said Deputy Garner.
Casey says longtime city activist Rosa Byrd reached out to him and reminded him that “senior citizens like to color, too.” He gave her 20 coloring books and she distributed them to her friends. “We put a little bit more of adult coloring in there – a little more complicated – but they can also share it with their grandkids,” said Lieutenant Casey.
The sheriff’s office is encouraging families to take photos of their kids coloring in the books or signing the pledge. Garner says in the first week of the program, they’ve received quite a few photos. “They really do want to be interactive with us,” she said.