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Books & Badges: St Matthias

We had a fantastic, two-day event at St Matthias School with Columbus Division of Police and the CPD Therapy Dogs this week. The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders were treated to visits with therapy dogs Simon and his handler, Officer Mike Paulins, and Eddie and his partner, Officer John Gagnon. They learned about the CPD Therapy Dog program, how it started, and what the benefits are. Plus, they got to pet the pups!

The rest of the school, kindergarten through fifth grade, participated in our Books & Badges program. Each classroom had at least one officer read a book to them, and every student got to keep a copy of their book to take home. We went on two different days to make sure we saw all the students. Due to Covid restrictions, the students are divided into A and B groups right now. For us, it meant twice the fun!

The third graders had a very special guest reader—Sergeant Ed Daniher, who is one of the sergeants in charge of the Community Liaison Officers, which means he’s one of the first officers we ever met with CPD. He’s truly amazing. He’s served the City of Columbus since 1977—for 43 years—longer than any other officer currently with the Division.

Sgt Daniher was wonderful as he read the students, “Oh, The Places You Will Go!” by Dr. Seuss. He actually practiced the book with his grandchildren the weekend before to make sure he got it just right. He also brought props—a fun hat and a skinny cat—and treats.

He told them stories of his job as a helicopter pilot with CPD. When he was selected to lead the helicopter unit, he didn’t know anything about flying. He said he was thrilled to be chosen for the position and spent the first six months reading everything he could. He also said he asked so many questions he is sure he annoyed everyone around him, but he wanted to learn, and that was a good way to do it. Then he started his training, and eventually he became a helicopter pilot himself.

On Tuesday, the fifth graders had three officers, including a special guest, FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP OFFICER, Sergeant Dave Pollock. The other two officers are familiar to Starfish readers: 14 Precinct Community Liaison Officer James Poole and Officer Sean Taylor, who led the Wedgewood Bikes Assignment. Ofc Taylor is normally with 10 Precinct, but is currently on a rotation with Homicide. (That’s why his uniform is different than what you’re used to seeing him in.)

The kids had a lot of questions for the officers, including, not surprisingly, why their uniforms were different. That was a great opportunity to explain that police officers have different types of uniforms and things to look for when you want to talk to one.

A student asked them, “What would you do if you couldn’t be a police officer?” Officer Poole said he was called to be a police officer, but if he had to, he would go into construction because he gets a lot of personal satisfaction out of that.

Sgt Pollock also said he felt called to be a police officer, but he began as a corrections officer because he could start before turning 21, which is the required age to be an officer in the state of Ohio. He enjoys policing because he can do seemingly small things like help people stuck on the side of the road or calming a situation. He said that when people are appreciative and thankful for his help, it makes him enjoy what he is doing. He said he would be a teacher if he changed jobs because he would enjoy working with different students, and he also has an interest in strength training and physical fitness.

Ofc Taylor has an Engineering degree, but he didn’t enjoy sitting behind a desk and being an engineer. He said he would like to run for political office if he was not an officer. Ofc Taylor has a passion for connecting with the community, and we’re already making plans with him to expand our bikes giveaway to other areas of the city next year. We’ve been working with him and Ofcs Poole and Sean Lutz (from Linden Safe Streets), and we’re looking forward to giving you more information in the spring.

On Tuesday, the fourth graders had Deputy Chief Tim Becker, who treated them to stories from “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” by Shel Silverstein. This is always a favorite among kids, and Chief Becker lets each student pick a number, then he reads the poem on that page for them. Probably their favorite one ends up being, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” which is quite a tongue twister, actually. The kids love it because it talks about all manner of gross kinds of food, including, “chunks of sour cottage cheese,” and “gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal.” After each gross line, the kids at St. Matthias let out a collective and very funny, “Ewwwww!!”

At the end of the reading of this poem, Chief Becker usually has convinced a few kids that the chore of taking out the garbage isn’t such a bad one after all, and this week was no exception. You’re welcome, parents!

There’s a poem in “Where the Sidewalk Ends” about an alligator, and he told the kids a story about a time when he and some other officers got called at 3:00 am to a report of an alligator in a yard in the Hilltop. They looked for an hour and a half for this alligator, which was supposedly nearly as big as he was. He told them that at first, he was scared, but after a while, they weren’t at all because they were less inclined to believe it was there. It was a yard with tall grass and cars and a lot of other items in it. They looked everywhere, but they couldn’t find anything, so they left.

The next morning, he woke up to a story of CPD and the Columbus Zoo pulling an alligator out of a yard in the Hilltop. There had indeed been an alligator there!

In the lower grades, there was some excitement because Ofc David Blubaugh had their teacher, Mrs. Saggio, for first grade when he went to school there! Whaaat?! He said it was funny for him because so much has remained the same—even the floors.

Today, Ofc Ryan Sigman was asked if he takes his gun home with him. He said yes, and that he keeps it locked up in a big safe. He said even though his kids are grown, he has a baby granddaughter, and he doesn’t want it left out accidentally when she is over. He and Sgt Daniher both spoke to their classes about never picking up guns if they see them, whether they’re on a table in their home or on the street. Instead, they should always tell their parent or another trusted adult about the gun so they can take care of it. While we weren’t in all the classrooms all the time, we know many of the officers spoke to the kids about these things. We know they also took the opportunity to talk to the children about things like getting good grades, what do if a stranger approaches them in public, considering policing as a career, and dispelling some myths about the police.

When we went back to St Matthias today, Chief Becker wasn’t able to go with us because he had to attend a funeral. However, the kids from Tuesday made thank you cards for him and we sent him pictures of a few that cheered him considerably. One read, “Hey Hey! I just want to say I enjoyed when you read to us, it was funny and the stories were crazy! I also LOVED when you told us about how it is to be a officer and I feel like that you’re a great example of how to be a officer. My favorite story you told was the alligator story. That alligator was so tall, I couldn’t believe it! So when I grow up I think I would like to be a officer like you! Because when you told us what it’s like, it’s so interesting. I hope you enjoy being a officer! Bye!”

As you can see from the pictures, the thank you notes meant a lot to the officers. They couldn't wait to go read them. It was very sweet of the students and their teachers to do that for them. Thank you for having us, St Matthias. We hope to see you again next year!


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