November 19, 2021

Spotlight on school security: up close and personal

Author: By Karen Lee Arthmann
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Caption: FILE PHOTO: Karen Arthmann addresses colleagues at the Capitol for SRP Lobby Day in 2019. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

This article was written by NYSUT Board Member Karen Lee Arthmann, Youth Assistant (School Security), Rush-Henrietta Employees Association, Para Chapter.

One group of dedicated and professional staff members you may not hear much about, unless there is a problem, is the school security personnel.

School security are present in most districts. They may be male or female, all shapes, sizes, genders and ethnicities. They may wear uniforms, a simple vest or just their own street clothes, and they all have one thing in common: they are there to keep students, staff and buildings safe.

They are the first ones to an emergency even before the police and fire departments arrive.

Their most important function is to listen. They listen while escorting a student to a class or to an administrator for a discipline issue. They listen while cajoling a student out of a bathroom stall who may be physically or emotionally hurting. They listen while stepping in before a verbal altercation escalates. They try to quickly find out what is going on at that moment in that student’s mind or life.

Walking a fine line between being friendly and staying professional, they can steer students in the right direction, toward counseling or maybe just a conversation with a teacher they felt was being unfair. They are not counselors, but they are a friendly ear and a consistent presence in the lives of students. In my district, they are called Youth Assistants.

School security do not just stand in hallways or help direct traffic or supervise after school events. They do their best to be a positive interaction with the children of all ages who are entrusted to their care. They are also the ones telling students to clear the halls, go to class or not talk “like that.”

They are not often rewarded with thanks or understanding. But when they see a former student who apologizes for the way they acted years earlier, or tells them that they are the reason they stayed in school and graduated, then they know at least that one student “got it.”

No one will ever get rich working school security, and whatever power they have is determined by the amount of support they receive from administration and families. It takes a strong person to go to work every day knowing you will probably get told off, sworn at or maybe even involved in a physical altercation. You must have a genuine love of children and an understanding that they are not usually mad at you; you just happen to be the person standing in front of them with what they may feel are unreasonable expectations when their world is falling apart.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Children need love most when they deserve it the least.”

The job of a school security guard is challenging and if things are going right, their contribution often goes unnoticed.

School security guards do not, by and large, carry weapons to maintain control of situations. They use the knowledge and experience they gained mostly on the job, and they use their voices and their listening skills because those are the tools they have and that they have honed over the years.

I have been in my district for 36 years and have spent 26 of them as a Youth Assistant. I love my job and I love my kids. I have their affection and respect because that is what I give them.

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