As a member of the city’s Teen Council, Olathe East High School freshman Evelyn Dubey was planning to attend last week’s student forum at police headquarters, anyway. And then the day of the forum, her backpack was stolen from the girls’ locker room while she was in gym class.
Her cellphone, notebooks and textbooks were gone. So Evelyn reached out to the school resource officer, who said he would check recordings made by surveillance cameras inside the school for clues about the culprit.
And so during one of the focus-group discussions during which the two dozen teens attending the forum broke up into smaller groups, Evelyn said she generally felt “somewhat safe” — as opposed to “very safe,” “safe” or “mostly worried” — at school. None of the five teens in her group said they were “mostly worried.”
When the facilitator probed, the teens expressed some concerns about fights, drug and alcohol usage and fellow students carrying knives on campus. And when the facilitator asked about bullying — whether in person or online — the teens downplayed it, saying they were aware of more gossip than overt intimidation.
The youths thought the school resource officer program could be better publicized. And they thought that driving-safety programs, such as one that uses goggles and a computer program to simulate alcohol impairment, were effective.
That was just the sort of feedback that Jeff Wilson, chairman of the Olathe Citizen’s Police Advisory Council, wanted to hear. This was the third such forum that Wilson’s group has put on in the past three years in conjunction with the Police Department, the Teen Council and the Olathe School District.
Officers, school administrators and teens gathered in the foyer outside the meeting room for pizza, snacks and soda before getting down to business. Jordan Jewett, the Teen Council president, was taking attendance and handing out name tags. Jordan said she has family members in law enforcement and is considering it as a career.
“This gives people a time to voice their opinions,” she said. “They are free to express themselves. This is a night they can do it.”
Olathe Police Chief Steven Menke welcomed the teens by emphasizing the department’s mission statement — “Serving, protecting and working with our community in a professional manner to prevent, reduce and solve crime” — and explaining how the department is organized.
“We need to understand what’s important to the community as a whole,” Menke said, “and students are 25 percent of the city’s entire population. … We want to understand what’s important to you and what’s happening inside and outside of school.”
While the students were promised anonymity for their responses during the focus groups — Evelyn Dubey agreed afterward to be quoted — facilitator Wrandi Shinkle summed up her group’s feelings.
“The kids feel safe,” Shinkle said. “They think the SROs are doing a good job. They see issues with weekend parties. Last fall, a big party got busted, so that was effective in getting the word out.”
Marijuana was the illegal drug mentioned most frequently in her focus group, Shinkle said, followed by the ADHD drug Adderall — an amphetamine employed as a study aid — during finals.