Mogollon grows as Weston’s school resource officer
By Gregory Menti on January 6, 2017 in Lead News, News, People, Police & Fire
Joe Mogollon, a Weston police officer for 12 years, has been the town’s school resource officer (SRO) for four months and couldn’t love his new position any more.
“I couldn’t be happier being in the schools every day,” said Mogollon. “The interactions I have with the kids day in and day out, it’s a totally different job than when I was at the police station, but it’s been so fulfilling for me.”
Walking the hallways at Weston High School with Mogollon showcases exactly why he’s already enjoying his job.
Students come up to him to talk and ask questions, staff members greet him enthusiastically and even the shyest kids smile and wave.
“A lot of my first few months has been establishing relationships with the kids in the schools,” Mogollon said. “It’s really opened my eyes to just how great the kids in this town are. Having them trust me and come to me for anything they need is one of the best parts of my day, every day.”
Mogollon said no two days are the same for Weston’s SRO. He usually starts by greeting kids in the morning as they get to school.
He’s made a concentrated effort to get to know students by their names. He ventured to guess he knows about half the high school students on a first-name basis and is looking to go up from there.
Some days, Mogollon runs programs on safe driving for high schoolers, while other days he works with guidance to help students with some of their problems. He also goes down to the middle school to teach Internet safety classes. Students will even come to his office to ask for advice on upcoming career choices.
Mogollon has been involved in student projects and videos, answered questions about government and law for civics classes and acted as a mentor to students who need guidance.
Recently, Mogollon was moved by a conversation he had with a student who wasn’t sure what he wanted do for the rest of his life.
The student was interested in law enforcement and becoming a police officer, so Mogollon asked some colleagues to come to the school and talk to him about law enforcement.
“I’m not a teacher or a guidance counselor,” Mogollon said. “I like to think I can speak with these kids on a personal level and be someone that they know they can trust.”
One of Mogollon’s core tenets as an SRO is ensuring that he is approachable by every student and staff member in the Weston schools.
“I had to come in as a new guy in the school system, and it was a challenge at first,” he said. “As I’ve made myself known around the school, the students have all been very accepting. It’s come as a surprise to me, because when you’re a police officer and the students don’t know you, then you can be intimidating to them. I’ve worked very hard to make sure that feeling goes away.”
Mogollon has been guest-teaching at middle school and freshman health classes to emphasize why students need to treat their Internet presence with care.
Among the specific subjects Mogollon touches on is the illegality of sexting and how to ensure that one’s “online reputation” isn’t tarnished.
“What kids don’t realize is that posting one mistake online could affect them forever,” he said. “I’m really focused on making sure kids don’t make that mistake.”
Mogollon also teaches the dangers of cyberbullying, which he said has skyrocketed in recent years.
“I can’t imagine what life would be like having Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter when I was a teenager,” said Mogollon. “Some kids don’t realize what they say online has consequences in real life.”
Mogollon is in the midst of planning a newsletter highlighting Internet safety, to be sent to parents in the Weston school district.
“I get a lot of phone calls from parents asking questions about which websites are and aren’t suitable for kids, so I want to compile a list and make that available,” Mogollon said. “I’ll also include advice and tips for everyday Internet safety.”
Recently, Mogollon brought in a program called “Save-A-Life,” which allows high school students to drive a virtual reality simulator while requiring them to answer text messages. The simulator was a success, with students lining up to give it a try.
“I think bringing in interactive, tangible experiences like this is good for the students,” said Mogollon. “It really drives home the point better than if I was just standing in front of a class lecturing to them about why distracted driving is dangerous.”
Additionally, Mogollon has had conversations with First Selectman Nina Daniel about integrating a comprehensive drug awareness program at the middle school and high school.
Mogollon emphasized that he is still a police officer and much of his job still revolves around doing police work, and that can involve juvenile drug arrests.
“One of my biggest jobs is stopping things before they become a bigger deal than they currently are,” said Mogollon, who includes student drug and alcohol use in that category. “Whatever comes up I am ready to get involved and do the necessary police work to ensure that we are ultimately keeping the kids in the schools safe.”
While Mogollon spends about 40% of his time in the middle school, intermediate school and Hurlbutt Elementary School, he stresses the importance of having his office in the high school.
“Most of the work I do as of now is in this building,” he said. “I am going to work on getting more involved at the lower grade levels soon so I can become a friendly face for students in their entire Weston school experience.”
Last month, Mogollon helped a high school student track down her lost cell phone. A few days later, he received a handwritten note from her thanking him for his help. The last line of the note said, “All of the kids here really love you.”
Mogollon said the note reinforced why he loves coming into the schools every day.
“I don’t ever want to miss this. I don’t want to get sick and have to miss even one day of work,” he said. “I’m going to keep trying my best to make sure this a great school system.”