During the 2016 Arizona School Resource Officer Association Conference on June 21, Marana Police Department’s own Melissa Larkin received the School Resource Officer of the Year Award. This recognition honors Officer Larkin’s dedication and service to the students and community of Marana Middle School.
Officer Larkin recently completed her second year working with seventh and eighth grade students at Marana Middle School. In her time at this school, she has not only forged strong relationships with students, parents, teachers, and staff, but she has also gone above and beyond the call of duty. The federal grant which funds her position requires that she teach 180 hours each school year. Last year, she clocked a total of 240 hours.
“I teach an internet safety class which every seventh grader will take at some point. There are over 500 seventh graders at Marana Middle, and every one of them will spend time in my classroom,” states Officer Larkin.
While internet safety is hardly a new topic for schools, rarely is it taught by a uniformed law enforcement officer. Officer Larkin’s unique position has helped her structure her curriculum. Heather Pletnick, principal Marana Middle School, says “Officer Larkin has a classroom that supports safety and collaboration. She works closely with teachers to establish a curriculum that is timely, educating our students on the dangers of the internet and cyber bullying. Furthermore, she has also developed a Police Explorers class for our 21st century grant class which allows students the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a police officer.”
Larkin says, “We talk a lot about the legal ramifications of cyber-bullying and sexting. We address how to avoid predators on social media. Overall, I want my students to be informed users of the powerful tools available online, not scared of them. I try to use a debate-based approach in my instruction, so that students can grapple with the challenging questions around using the internet appropriately.”
“Officer Larkin has made an indelible impact in her work at Marana Middle School,” Pletnick further states. “She represents the rights, the safety, the knowledge, and the relationship skills needed to not only connect with students, but to leave a lasting impact on them.”
Officer Larkin is a constant presence at Marana Middle School, a fact which students and teachers are quick to point out.
As she circulates through the lunch room and out on the playing fields, her familiarity with the students is evident. Energetic throngs of adolescents quickly assemble around her, ready to discuss their latest middle school drama. Dispassionately, Officer Larkin lets them tell their story, and fortunately, that’s almost all she’ll ever need to do. By the time the students have reached the end of the saga, they’ve found a resolution.
Whether she’s maintaining a safe environment, building relationships, helping sort out middle school drama, or educating students on the importance of making good choices, Officer Larkin’s role in the education environment makes a tremendous difference for the community she serves. Police officers and teachers are natural allies, but that doesn’t mean they always understand each other. At Marana Middle, though, they do. Everyone, from the receptionist who has worked at the school for 17 years to the principal who just started last August, knows and trusts Officer Larkin. She’s part of the “Falcon Family,” as they like to say.
The Marana Police Department currently has two School Resource Officers. This award marks the second straight year a Marana Police Officer has won this award. Officer Cole Hunter, who is assigned to the Marana High School, was last year’s recipient.