As Fort Dodge Police School Resource Officer Cody Harris sat down in the big red rocking chair in Jen Yoder’s kindergarten classroom at Cooper Elementary School Thursday morning to read the students a book about being a police officer, one important task had already been done for him.
He did not have to tell them, “You have the right to remain silent.”
“Their teachers told them that already,” he joked.
Reading to the students is part of an ongoing education unit Yoder is working on with her students called Me and My Community. Volunteers from different professions visit the class and read a book about what they do and answer questions.
So far, she’s had a nurse, an actor, firefighters, a journalist and now, police officers.
“They can learn about our community and the different role people perform in it and about different people,” Yoder said.
Harris began with an introduction.
“I’m Officer Harris,” he said. “You guys can call me Cody, that’s my first name.”
As he read, he talked about the bright metal badge on his left chest. He explained to the children, this is how you know somebody is a real police officer.
What if they don’t have a badge? One student knew the answer.
“That’s a fake cop,” the student said.
One student in the class had been a crime victim.
“Somebody took my bike,” they said.
That’s part of Harris’ job, too.
“We try to find your bike for you,” he said.
At least one student was quite impressed with the badge.
“I’m going to be a real police officer,” he said.
Even as kindergarten students, the students seem aware that sometimes, officers like Harris have to deal with serious crimes.
“Do you arrest people that try to kill people?” one young lady asked.
“I try to keep people safe,” Harris said.
Another student, already a fan, had another important question.
“How are you so brave?” they wanted to know.
“Sometimes we’re scared, too, we have to find it in ourselves to go ahead, we want to help them.” Harris said.
After reading the story, Harris shared the many tools he carries on his duty belt to keep himself safe and do his job. Those include his taser, sidearm, radio, notebook, pens, body armor, latex gloves, regular gloves and something the students were already familiar with, handcuffs.
“I already know what they’re for,” one student said.
One final item in his inventory wasn’t missed by the alert students.
“What’s that in your pocket?” one of them asked.
“Oh,” he said. “That’s my wallet so I have money for lunch and a bottle of water.”
Fellow School Resource Officer Joelyn Johnson was also on hand to talk to the students about her job.
She shared how the lessons learned in school translate to the world at large.
“Here at school,” she said. “Do we learn it’s not OK to hit people? Your teachers are teaching you what the laws are. It’s against the law to hurt people. It’s the same with stealing. It’s not okay to take or break somebody’s stuff.”
One student was curious to know if Johnson’s duties included rescue work.
“Do you save cats and dogs that are stuck in a tree?” one asked.
“We would call the Fire Department,” Johnson said. “We work closely with the Fire Department.”
On duty, Harris has faced a variety of potentially dangerous suspects, has had to testify in court under close scrutiny and may, at any moment, find himself in harm’s way.
How does all that compare to facing a room full of kindergarten students with lots of questions?
“They’re way scarier,” he said. “They look up to you.”
At the end of the unit, on March 1, Yoder’s students will present a play in which each student gets to demonstrate a career or profession for their assembled parents.
Until then, she still has plenty of books on different careers. Those include dentists, librarians, green house workers and scientists, all of whom would be welcome to come read to her students.