The Bibb County School District Police Department is Georgia’s oldest K-12 school police agency. Led by Chief Russell E. Bentley, the 23 officers of the Bibb County School Police work with Bibb County Sheriff’s deputies to provide law enforcement services to the district’s 39 schools and to multiple administrative facilities.
One of the law enforcement services that the Bibb County School Police recently started provided is outreach to elementary school students, including helping them achieve reading proficiency.
The elementary school outreach program is the brainchild of Deputy Chief Stephanie Prater, a 28-year peace officer and a former acting chief of the Bibb County School Police. Prater and her program were nominated as a 2023 POLICE Magazine Innovative Law Enforcement Leader by Chief Bentley.
“Traditionally, school resource officers are often stationed at the middle and high schools, which leaves little time for proactive interaction at the elementary schools. At the elementary level, students are inquisitive and hands-on, therefore, the uniform still fascinates them. It only made sense for us to come up with a program that not only made reading fun for students, but also let them know that the officers serving them care about their education and success,” Prater says.
Georgia state testing for student reading proficiency begins in the third grade, so Prater targeted Grade Level Reading and Mentoring Program specifically to second-graders. She also focused the program on students who live in at-risk neighborhood where many students had historically lower than average test scores.
The program had an unfortunate launch date…2020 right before the pandemic closed the schools. But today it is in full swing. Prater says it has helped 150 students who were identified by teachers and counselors as needing assistance.
Prater stresses that the students are more than passive listeners and the participating officers do not just read to them. “Students in the program are allowed to choose books to read aloud based on their grade levels and reading ability,” she says. “This not only builds confidence, but gives students an opportunity to work in smaller settings with an adult who is not necessarily school-based.” The students are also given incentives to achieve goals for both reading performance and good behavior.
The reading program has aided the Bibb County School Police with outreach to the community, and it plans to expand its elementary school presence to include more officers. Prater singled out Officer Angelo Bellamy and Sgt. Latricia Gittens for their dedication to the reading program.
“We’re happy that we found a way to join forces with school staff and are looking forward to continuing our efforts in helping students succeed,” Chief Bentley said.