High SChool Blues

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    SPARTA-He's a little older and bigger than the students who pass him in the school hallways. He doesn't attend any classes, play sports or complete any homework. Instead, he carries a badge, a gun and is an integral part of the Sparta High School community. He is Corporal Joseph Drossel of the Sparta Police Department, who under a new federal program titled "Cops in Schools Grant" now patrols the school as a student resource officer (SRO). In addition to Drossel, the department, in conjunction with administrators, has assigned Sparta Police Officer Keith Hannam to be the SRO at the Sussex County Vo-Tech School. The department will receive from the federal government "over $200,000" in the next three yeras to fund the program. The goal of the program is to help eliminate truancy, petty crimes, and drug and/or alcohol abuse, as well as improved the communication links between the local law enforcement community and students. For Drossel the new assignment is a return to his old stomping grounds. Previously, he served as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer at the middle school. First and foremost on Drossel's list of goals as an SRO is what he refers to as "forming a positive relationship with the students." The new SRO believes that by improving communication with high school students, the campus will automatically become a safer place. "It's not my job to discipline," said Drossel. Instead, the SRO position gives students the opportunity to discuss problematic issues with someone other than a school official. "According to guidelines set by the attorney general, if a student is having a drug problem, they can come to me without worrying of any repercussions," said Drossel. "My purpose is to help them." Drossel is also devising a plan to help make the High School safer from outside sources. He said that in many schools, any person entering the building would need to be buzzed in by a school administrator before being allowed in. Drossel acknowledged that the task would be especially difficult at the high school because students often times walk outdoors to get to and from classes. However, he said that with a few changes, some security measures can be taken. "One of the great things about being here is that I feel confident working in the school environment," said Drossel. "I feel that I've built a trust with the (student) community and it definitely helps." Sparta is not the only local municipality to benefit from SROs. Newton, High Point and Kittatinny high schools also have similar programs. According to Sparta Township Manager Henry Underhill, after the money from the Cops in Schools grant is depleted, the number of available Sparta Police Officers will determine whether or not the SRO program will continue. Last week as Drossel walked the hallways, several high school students waved hello, while others stopped to talk. "I'm excited about this," said Drossel. "The high school years should be one of the most enjoyable periods of someone's life." Drossel said he lo