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WCIA-3 Investigates violence and weapons at school: Part 2

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- The school year may be winding down, but district leaders are still looking for ways to keep students safe.
CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- The school year may be winding down, but district leaders are still looking for ways to keep students safe. In some places, that means stepping outside the classroom to get fresh perspective.

Many districts focus on connecting with students. It starts with talking, but it goes way beyond that. That's because incidents happening in schools are sometimes brewing long before students walk in the door.

"I love doing what I do," said Champaign Centennial SRO Ed Wachala.

And one thing Officer Wachala does every day is walk the halls at Centennial High.

"We do that all day long," said Wachala. "Putting out fires, trying to prevent things from becoming bigger."

He's been the SRO there for the past seven years. It's his job to get to know the students and make sure they're safe. But his work doesn't stop when they walk outside. Wachala said some in-school fights stem from scuffles on the streets. And if he knows what students are dealing with, it's easier to stop problems before they start.

"Our goal is not to be Billy Bad Police Officer," said Wachala. "It's to come here and I'm going to do what law enforcement I have to, but my role here is really to develop relationships and establish positive relationships with kids and the community."

Communication is a key point for other school leaders when it comes to safety.

"We have principals, assistant principals that the students can talk with in those buildings," said Charleston superintendent Jim Littleford.

Another opportunity includes rewarding students who make a positive influence.

"Be respectful, be responsible, be ready," said Fisher superintendent Barb Thompson.

Those are the three "Be's" at Fisher schools. The saying is illustrated by the students themselves in pictures around the building.

"Every school is a microcosm of their community so we certainly are that," said Thompson.

But even in their small community, Thompson said there's no quick fix for keeping kids safe.

"There's no exact science to it," said Thompson. "If there was, I would certainly write that book and try to make some money off that."

Thompson said they also work to develop relationships with students within their classes. It's something that's a little more challenging at bigger schools.

"The reality of it is, I have 1,500 kids," said Wachala. "I'm 48 years old and my memory's not what it used to be. Do I remember every kid's name? But I know who they are."

Wachala said knowing where they came from is just as important as what they look like. And that involves more than just the students themselves.

"Sometimes entire families get mixed up in these fights, everything from the parents down to the kids," said Wachala. "So it's really important that parents start taking responsibility for their involvement in those kinds of things and also for their involvement with their children."

Now that summer is coming up, Wachala said it's even more important for parents to be involved in what their kids are up to and talk to them about issues or concerns they may have.

If you want to see the results of our investigation, click on this link.
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