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St. Louis Police Recruits Help Kids Learn To Read

St. Louis Police Department Detective Deandree Davis, far left, and Officer Darius Rutling, Karen Kalish and Woerner Elementary School principal Peggy Meyer discuss the Books and Badges program with 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh on Jan. 15, 2015.
Alex Heuer
/
St. Louis Public Radio

After an uneventful police ride-along, Karen Kalish had an idea. She wanted to match police officers with young students who struggle with reading. For the past 12 years, Books and Badges has paired St. Louis police recruits and elementary school children.

“It’s a great program,” St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Darius Rutling told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday. “We would read to the children some days and some days they would read to us. Me and my partner, we would come up with little small games to make it interesting ’cause reading can get boring at times. We’d try to find interesting ways to make it ‘Hey, reading is great.’ ”

The students are picking up on that message, Woerner Elementary School principal Peggy Meyer said.

“They think these recruits are really cool,” she said. “So seeing cool people who are excited about reading makes them more excited about reading.”

“They were excited,” Rutling said. “A lot of them said they wanted to be cops, and we’d try to show them that hey, you’ve got to get your education (and) stay in school if you actually want to do this and do something positive in the world.”

Rutling, who recently finished the program, said became a police officer “to help the community. It sounds like a cliche answer, but that was the real reason.” Growing up, he said police officers were only seen when something bad happened. He said he wants people to see officers in a different light.

“I was excited to see the kids,” he said. “Me and my partner, every time we would walk through that door, they would bum-rush us. Literally, bum-rush us. I wanted to sign autographs — it was that overwhelming when we walked through the door.”

“The program is geared toward the kids, but I believe the recruits really get an understanding of how it works: the interaction of people,” said St. Louis police Detective Deandree Davis, who trains officers for the Books and Badges program. “To be able to come into that classroom and not know anybody, they have to tear down some walls. They have to rebuild some walls. They have to give out some self-confidence, and these kids need that.”

At the end of the nine-week program, the tables are flipped and the students get to visit the police academy.

“They get to see where (officers) learn how to shoot guns. They get to go into the room to see how they learn how to drive fast. They go up into the gym and they get to run around the gym and they have to pull this fake dead body, and they watch a police officer pull down another officer and put handcuffs on them,” Kalish said. “They love seeing where (the officers) go to school.”

The program is offered in the city so far. Each police academy class, usually 30 to 35 recruits, is divided into pairs; each pair works with the same class each week of the program. Kalish said she has talked to the St. Louis County Police Department about expanding the program.

“I think Books and Badges is an amazing program,” Meyer said. “Our kids really respond well to the police officers. They form great relationships that I believe will last a lifetime and have a great positive impact on their lives.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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