Welcome, Officer McCluskey
Since the beginning of the school year, Wilsonville schools have a new student resource officer.
Transitioning from a five-year career as a Clackamas County Sheriff's Office patrol officer for Wilsonville, and most recently Happy Valley, Officer Stephanie McCluskey has been moving up the learning curve for the position fast, but there was one thing she was not anticipating: germs.
"I've been sick for two months," McCluskey said. "It's funny, I was like, 'How am I getting sick?' and then I realized, oh, it's because when little kids ask for a high-five, I'm never going to say no. That's the difference from when you're working on patrol and people want to touch you, you're like, 'No. You're a grown adult and it's 2 in the morning. Nobody is touching me.' But in the schools? It's like, 'Hey kids! It's great to see you all!' But I've been told that once I'm inoculated that I'll never be sick again, so I'm just riding it out."
Although McCluskey said that she loved the fast pace, she was ready for a change, and wanted to put her education and passion for helping children make solid life choices into more use.
"I'm very interested in things that influence people," she said. "Working patrol, I really enjoyed the cases where you see kids in whatever situation they're in because they're not locked in. They can change it, and they can take a different opportunity or take a different avenue, so that was a big part of why I wanted to go work with kids."
With a degree in Human Development and Family Science, one quote from her education really stuck out and often comes to mind while working with students.
"It's such a cheesy quote, but when I was in school we would talk about, 'It takes one caring adult to completely change a kid's life,'" she said. "And here, I have access to about 4,500 kids, and so any contact I have with them, that could be the moment or the contact that sticks with them, and they make better choices and opportunities open up for them."
She has ample opportunity to put her collective skills to use as the SRO. Although, McCluskey said that many people do not actually know what her position entails.
"I think there's a misconception that I'm just at the high school since that's where the office is, but I'm rarely in my office because I'm also going to all the middle and elementary schools," she said. "I've been in every single school, walking around, doing safety assessments, talking to the student counselors and just bouncing ideas off of each other. With my training and experience, it's just one more lens and I'm also a conduit to a lot of different resources."
From DHS, Children's Center, Clackamas county mental health services and other public services that students and families may not be familiar with, McCluskey works to ensure that children do not fall through the cracks or become adrift.
In addition, any time a student has been involved in a crime — whether a witness, suspect or victim — it is an SRO's responsibility to get involved. But McCluskey said that the law enforcement portion of her job only accounts for about 5% of her time.
Most of her time goes toward working on education and prevention. From being at risk for being trafficked or abused to drug usage or self harm, McCluskey said that education and prevention are key in keeping children safe on personal and institutional levels.
"Very little of my contact with the kids is enforcement contact because I'm there going through the schools every day," she said. "I'm constantly seeing kids and checking in on them, letting them know that there's someone else there who's paying attention, knows them and cares."
From working with school administration, community resources and law enforcement, McCluskey said ensuring that students have a solid foundation of expectations and sense of security is a priority for her.
"Whether kids are at risk because of their own choices or what's going on at home, the school needs to be a place where there are no worries," she said. "I think that's why we have an SRO. When kids come to school, they shouldn't be worried about anything. That's why I consult and train for those critical incidents and why we do the threat assessment process so that we can stop it before it happens.
"I think that's the No. 1 priority is identifying risk factors, and that's why it's so important to work with community resources, parents, teachers, because statistically there are so many warning signs before a critical incident occurs."
Shadowing her predecessor for two weeks prior to taking over, McCluskey learned quickly that response time is essential while working with children because any moment could be a critical moment.
"There's a lot of triaging, so things can't wait. As things come up throughout the day, it's like, 'I have to go to this kid's house today. I have to check on this kid today. I have to track them down today.' It's not like someone can tell you, 'Hey, I have this concern,' and you're like, OK I'll get to that Monday," she said.
"I can be the conduit that connects the school to the parents to the community, so that way there's a wrap-around team of adults that make sure that the kids are being taken care of."
Although she spends most of her time with students and administration, McCluskey said that parents are the No. 1 teammate she has for keeping students safe at and away from school. Answering parents' safety questions — from social media dangers to student driving tips — is one area that McCluskey hopes to do more of in the future.
"I want parents to know that I am a resource to them. I think that's a part that gets left out with the school resource officer is that I'm the resource. I'm not just a person to call when you say, 'I need the cops!'" she said. "I want parents to reach out to me."
Going forward, McCluskey hopes to continue to make a positive impact on students while encouraging them to make good choices while still having fun. Although, she knows it won't always be easy.
"Patrol was really difficult, and this is really difficult in a completely different way," McCluskey laughed. "But I'm really enjoying it."
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