Written by: Officer Ryan Jonkman
15 years Law Enforcement Service / Fourth year SRO / Dare Instructor
22 years Active Duty Army / Army National Guard
Teaching the DARE program to the 5th-grade feeder schools and then being positioned as the SRO in the middle school has given me an advantage. I meet the kids in 5th grade, they get to know me, and when they come to 6th grade, they know that I am someone they can go to, and the word gets around to the other students who haven’t met me in their 5th-grade year. The schools within Midvale City are all Title 1 schools, and the average family is lower income. Over 60% of my students would be considered minorities, and of that, about 10% are refugees. Before meeting me, nearly half my students have had a negative interaction or view of law enforcement. This has given me the challenge to be more than just an SRO and DARE Instructor. I prefer to go by “Officer Ryan” instead of “Officer R. Jonkman.” In my DARE classroom introduction, I show them a few pictures of my family and tell them about how my child has painted toenails. My goal is to show them I am human, just like them. I also express my desire to learn from them, especially in this day and age.
Going on my 5th year of teaching the DARE program in the Midvale City elementary schools and my 4th year as the SRO for the middle school, I have seen the little-known benefits of this position. This assignment was the last position I ever saw myself in when I started my law enforcement career over 15 years ago. I remember one of my Field Training Officers who was working to become a middle school SRO and asking him, “Why would you ever want to do that?” He told me he knew it was the best place where he could make a difference. Fast forward nine years, and after a lot of peer pressure from a fellow Officer to teach the DARE program, I was asking him at his retirement, “What is your one piece of advice to be the best SRO I can be?” He told me to be the “parental” figure the kids may not have at home.
The DARE program is not the Drug Abuse Resistance Education you or your children may have taken until 2010. With help from prevention specialists and educational researchers, they developed the evidence-based “Keepin it REAL” curriculum. Instead of teaching kids about drugs for 45 minutes, I now get to help them learn how to make safe and responsible designs with the help of the DARE Decision Making Model (DDMM). The DDMM is based on a four-step process, Define, Assess, Respond, and Evaluate, providing children an easy tool to think about a decision before making it. I have students tell me, “Thank you for helping me with stuff I can use in my everyday life.”, “A few things that really helped me were how to handle peer pressure and the five W’s of reporting bullying.”, “You have helped me in many ways, like helping me calm down in situations where I get really mad.” and of course, “You’re the best!”
I have been fortunate to have our district superintendent supporting the DARE program and making it mandatory for all the Canyons School District elementary schools covered by three of the four police departments that support it, with the 4th city providing the NOVA Program. I understand our educators only have so much time in the day, but it is vital for law enforcement to have positive interactions with our children. The DARE program is one of the many ways this can happen. These interactions have even crossed over into the home with parents that would not normally interact positively with law enforcement. I have had a few experiences where a parent has sought me out for non-school-related incidents simply because I not just taught their child, but built trust and respect with them. I understand being an SRO is not for all of us, but for those ready for the challenge; it is one of the best places we can help and make a positive influence and is this not why we got into law enforcement in the first place?