Linn County Metro

Cedar Rapids police 'PALs' teach safety, build relationships

Officers planning visits to all elementary school classrooms

Cedar Rapids Police Officer Shannon Sampson speaks about her job to a kindergarten class at Calvin Coolidge Elementary in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 17, 2012. Sampson is one of two officers assigned full-time to the PAL program, visiting schools so the students can meet a police officer and also learn about safety issues. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Police Officer Shannon Sampson speaks about her job to a kindergarten class at Calvin Coolidge Elementary in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 17, 2012. Sampson is one of two officers assigned full-time to the PAL program, visiting schools so the students can meet a police officer and also learn about safety issues. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — With another school year underway, the Cedar Rapids police PAL program will once again be in session in the city’s elementary schools.

Under the PAL program — which stands for Protect, Assist and Listen — Cedar Rapids police officers Shannon Sampson and Glen Kieler visit each classroom at each elementary school to teach the students about a variety of topics related to student safety.

“We visit each school twice a year, at least,” Sampson said. “We do certain programs in the fall and certain programs in the spring.”

Sampson said fall topics, which are separated by grade, include an introduction to who police are and what they do, walking to and from school, being home alone, personal safety, bullying, shoplifting and internet safety. When police return in the spring, they cover strangers, respect for authority and other people’s property, gun safety and bike safety. The fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms are skipped in the spring unless specifically requested, Shannon said.

“That keeps us pretty busy,” said Sampson, noting that hitting up each classroom in the elementary school is a full-time task. “It keeps the kids engaged.”

While providing students with safety tips is the top priority of the PAL program, Sampson said the initiative — which has been in place for the entirety of her 19-year career — also is about building relationships with kids. Sampson said some children when they enter school have never encountered police; others have maybe only had negative interactions due to an arrest of a family member.

“We just like to build those relationships and we want them to feel comfortable,” Sampson said. “We never want them to be afraid of us.”

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Sampson said another important aspect of the program is reinforcing the lessons at home. Sometimes Sampson and Kieler will give the same presentation that they gave to a classroom full of kids to a Parent Teacher Association meeting just to make sure the safety message is consistent, she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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