It’s 10:15 a.m. on March 14, and the first of three lunch periods at the Cavelero Mid High cafeteria is about to begin. There is no one in sight except for the food service folks and an administrator making his way down the long hallway. Combinations of familiar lunchtime aromas waft through the air causing hungry stomachs to growl.
The bell rings, marking the arrival of roughly 450 students converging into the cafeteria. For 30 minutes it’s their time to socialize and grab something to eat. Students and conversations are all at once everywhere. Ques for hot food, the sub bar, or pizza snake from all corners. Some bring a sack lunch, some are starving and eager to eat, and some are more interested in talking.
It’s here you will find Officer Jim Barnes, but you have to look quick. One minute he is reminding students to put their hoodies down, next he’s sitting at a table of six—checking in, merely saying hi and seeing what’s for lunch. In a blink, he is thirty yards away talking to a group of girls that are demanding his attention, “Sing me a song,” “Read us a story,” the appeals continue and it’s easy to see that the kids just enjoy his company.
One student Officer Barnes checks in with regularly is eighth grader Malachi Smith. A couple of months ago Malachi decided to test the waters and introduce himself—he snuck up behind Barnes and gave him a friendly little punch. Officer Barnes responded in kind and they have become fast friends ever since.
“He is by far my favorite police officer, he is like another dad, I want to be like him when I grow up. I like him a lot.” Smith has lots to say and talks fast, “He’s cool, and interesting, he tells me stories and information, I’m thinking about joining the Explorer program, but I’ve got a busy schedule.”
Upon graduation from high school Smith wants to join the Marine Corps, like many in his family have done before him. He is currently taking Mixed Martial Arts classes in Seattle three times a week. He knows the physical techniques he learns there are off limits at school.
Officer Barnes is always there, ready with a knowing look and smile to remind him too—no more “chucks” or strikes or other MMA moves at school.
A picture of constant motion, Barnes is next with five boys to learn about Pi Day, as declared by math geeks around the world as well as Cavelero math teachers. The boys are intent on polishing off a home-made pie, but took the time to explain the irrational mathematical constant Pi (3.1415926535….). Of course you have to celebrate every 3/14 of the year with the consumption of yummy pies.
After six months of dining with students, Officer Barnes knows his new beat—the patterns of where kids sit, where they go to be unobserved, what their behaviors tend to be.
“It’s part of my job to reach out, get to know the kids and to start the conversation,” Officer Barnes said. “Respect works two ways, I believe in making connections early on so that students can approach me when they are in need.”
Callie Chapman, ninth grader was eager to share, “He has made a big difference here. He’s strict, but fun at the same time. He listens to you, he has to do his job, but he is open-minded and not biased.”
Ninth grader Gabby Searles appreciates his honest approach, “I got into trouble once and he treated me fair – like an adult – he’s cool.”
And from Kaylan Ewell, the highest praise of all, “He always likes to talk to you, he’s the coolest staff member in the whole school!”
Staff members also appreciate his positive presence, his proactive approach and his knowledge.
At the beginning of the school year, he jumped into the maelstrom that is the parent drop-off zone and marshaled the sea of cars and kids into order making it more efficient and safer for all. And, in addition to teaching a variety of classes that compliment the Washington State History and Health curriculums, he is able to assist with issues of law and community outreach.
Counselor Guin Reeves said that Officer Barnes is there to help and advise when it comes to difficult issues, such as making calls to Child Protective Services.
“He is proactive in helping us and helping parents to understand options and resources that are available,” she said.
It’s nearing the end of first lunch and Officer Barnes is radioed to take a phone call. There he’s getting information and giving advice about an investigation and issues of family support. It’s one of the parts of his job that he takes great pride in—being a resource to families, kids, and staff members during difficult times.
The phone call ends, the bell sounds, and kids start moving to class. For Officer Barnes, it’s his job in a nut shell; Getting to know the students, serving as a positive role model, dealing with difficult issues, providing support and connecting people to resources.
For this day, the first 30 minute lunch period is done, two more to go, 900 more kids to reach out to.