Although he’s only been on the job as school resource officer for a month, as Matt Collins walks the halls of Champlain Valley Union High School, he sees many students and faculty that he greets like old friends.
“The position of school resource officer is multi-faceted,” Collins said. “I’m not just a police officer.”
He works to make his office a welcoming place for students to come if they’re feeling stressed. He’s got stress balls for them to squeeze; a miniature basketball and a hoop to shoot for and put their troubles in perspective; and maybe most importantly, candy.
Collins said sometimes students come to school and they’re not focused. Maybe a teacher has said something to them that’s got them upset, maybe it’s something else.
He might get them to go to the gym with him and shoot some baskets.
“They’ll destress that way and we’ll talk about whatever the issue is,” he said.
Collins said that he’s a part of team that includes three campus supervisors – Tim Albertson, Seth Emerson and Jamie Hayes.
Albertson pointed out that they are not campus security, that although they do help to keep the campus safe, they are also working to make sure that students feel safe and comfortable. Still, Collins is the safety portion of that equation.
“It’s a good group of people. I feel very fortunate that I can be a part of it,” he said.
Being a school resource officer and working with high school students requires a slightly different skill set than in other areas of police work. Collins said that town policeman could respond to calls from a wide range of ages. A policeman could find themselves responding “to a call with an 85-year-old or with a 15-year-old, but it all comes down to human kindness.”
Collins started his career as a police officer in Shelburne, but for the past 18 years he’s been working as a police officer at the University of Vermont where he said he also got to know a good many students.
One day, he found a little girl’s purse on campus. She’d apparently been visiting because he ended up tracing her and finding that she lived in the western United States, where he sent the purse.
Collins said one of his best days on that job was the day he got a “thank you” card in the mail from the little girl– written in crayon.
“All any officer wants is to do good for people,” he said. “They want to help you in a bad situation.”
He’s also had big arrests and said those “are exciting. It’s like a puzzle you build from little pieces until you get the big picture.”
Now, Collins said he finds great satisfaction in connecting with students. His best day as a school resource officer was during his second interview.
Before he was hired, one of the students told Principal Matt Bunting that he didn’t see a need for a school resource officer and he didn’t want one at the school. Every interaction the student had ever had with the police had gone badly.
Bunting suggested that he sit in on the interview. Collins said that before the interview was over, the student looked at him and said, “I’m starting to like you. I think we can get along. I think this can be OK.”
Now, he sees the student almost every day.
“We check in,” Collins said.
Sometimes, they shoot baskets. Sometimes they talk.
“He’s told me stuff about his life and his family that he’s never told anyone,” he said.
Collins didn’t know that he wanted to be a police officer in high school, he just knew that he wanted to go into a profession where he helped people. Before he went to Johnson State and got his degree in psychology, he was an emergency medical technician in Shelburne. At Johnson State, he was a firefighter.
When he heard that CVU was looking for a school resource officer, he sought out the position. Collins knew Shelburne Police Chief Aaron Noble from back in his days on the force there.
Being CVU’s first school resource officer is not a responsibility that he takes lightly.
“I want to make sure it’s done right,” he said. “I’m laying the foundation for future SROs here at CVU.”
And it is a big responsibility with about 1,500 people at the school. Including students, faculty and staff, the school is big enough for two school resource officers.
So far, so good. Since Collins talked about his best day, it seemed like the natural thing is to ask him what his worst day has been so far.
“I’ve had some challenging days,” he said. “But I haven’t had a worst day.”