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Fox Chapel Middle school resource officer targets trouble

“For me, this job is not about the money; it’s about changing young lives and actually making a difference,” says Wendy Tolbert, school resource officer at Fox Chapel Middle School.

RON THOMPSON | Times

“For me, this job is not about the money; it’s about changing young lives and actually making a difference,” says Wendy Tolbert, school resource officer at Fox Chapel Middle School.

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

I moved to Hernando County in 1983. Prior to that move, my family lived all over the United States because my father was in the Air Force and we moved around a great deal.

Tell us about your career.

I began my career in law enforcement at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office in 1994, working as a 911 operator. In 1999, I transferred to the criminal investigations division, where I worked as a secretary.

In 2001, I became a community relations specialist, where I first had the opportunity to teach young students about the basic laws and safety tips.

In 2003, I completed the police academy and became a deputy. I worked the road for two years, and then decided to try out for the SWAT team, where I encountered the most physically challenging days of my life.

Though I really enjoyed road patrol, I felt that I needed to do more for our community. In October 2005, I was selected for the school resource officer position at Fox Chapel Middle School. Much to my surprise, I made five arrests my first week at the school. I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

I immediately recognized the need to educate the students on what a crime was and what the lifelong consequences would be of having a criminal history. I realized that many students crave attention and will sometimes act out even to receive negative attention. Over the past few years, I have developed several programs (and borrowed others) to challenge and encourage the students to make better choices.

I also work hand in hand with Teen Court and the Department of Juvenile Justice. When a Fox Chapel student commits a crime and is sentenced by the court, I am contacted and asked for a recommendation. I have developed three positive programs for these juvenile offenders.

The first is the "Read to Right" program, a character-building exercise designed to encourage better decisionmaking.

I also arrange jail tours for these students and other at-risk students, as well as for students who may be interested in a career in law enforcement or corrections. The tours are an eye-opening experience.

I also began a "Pay It Forward" program, which encourages students to perform a kind deed and not expect anything in return.

New this year is the Beacon Club and the Breakfast Club, for students who are susceptible to getting in trouble and those who are borderline truant. If these students can go a period of time without any discipline problems or absences, they can receive a movie pass to Beacon Theaters or attend a breakfast with principal Ray Pinder and myself.

Deputy Deena Groves, school resource officer at the new Explorer K-8 School, and I are working on a conflict resolution program that we hope to implement by next school year. This program will help the students understand how to positively deal with conflicts without resorting to violence.

The students are excited about new opportunities, and we are seeing a difference in their behavior.

The most rewarding part of my job is when parents come to me and say, "You have changed my child's life." I have also had my students write letters to tell me that if it were not for me, they believe they would have ended up in jail. For me, this job is not about the money; it's about changing young lives and actually making a difference.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

Currently, I'm working on an accelerated bachelor's degree in business management, which takes up most of my free time. I do, however, volunteer at the Fraternal Order of Police's bingo at the Hernando County Fairgrounds on most Tuesdays and Sundays. Proceeds from the bingo benefit hospice.

Do you have any special hobbies?

I really enjoy camping with friends and family, and spending time outdoors. I look forward to my Tennessee family vacations, which I try to do every year.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

The shopping is getting better and better; I really enjoy shopping. On my weekends off, you can find me going out to dinner and a movie with my family. I also like to take advantage of the Weeki Wachee River.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

The bottom line is, we need to focus on our children. They are our future. We need to invest in them, reward them and mold them into better citizens. If more people took time out for their kids or grandchildren, even their neighborhood children, it would benefit us all. And we lead by example. Negative behavior is often learned behavior. Our children are watching and learning from their environment.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

I was a Weeki Wachee mermaid in 1989 and 1990, which landed me a role in the movie Off and Running, starring Cyndi Lauper and David Keith. In the early 1990s, I rode horses for the Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

I teach part time at the police academy in Inverness. Teaching at the academy offers me the opportunity to teach prospective law enforcement officers the importance of establishing a positive relationship with the children in their community.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at jhayes@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1438.

Fox Chapel Middle school resource officer targets trouble 09/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 26, 2008 1:19pm]

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