Sergeant Jeff Lewis Mentors Avon Students
Writer / Heather Chastain
When I arrived at Avon Middle School North to speak with Sergeant Jeff Lewis, it happened to be right at a 4-minute passing period.
“Do you mind if I stand in the hallway until this passing period is over,” asked Lewis. Standing with him those four minutes gave me some fantastic insight into one of the coolest police officers Avon Community School Corporation is proud to call a resource officer.
Students said “hey” to him and were walking up to give him a high five. One student giggled jumping up to give him a high five saying, “you didn’t make me jump for it today!” The two laughed.
A couple of other students walked by, and he asked where their up-coming games were being held Wednesday and Thursday. The students smiled and answered, “I like to go to a handful of games. I want them to know I enjoy spending time with them because I do,” Lewis says.
This is a man connected with his students.
“I love this age group,” Lewis says. “I really like the younger kids I teach too, but at this age, you can really get into a more intellectual conversation.” The conversation Sgt. Lewis is having is to teach the students not only to be against drugs, but how to be a leader.
When Lewis began working with Avon schools in 2000, they were teaching D.A.R.E. “We just didn’t have the manpower to teach the 17-week D.A.R.E. program,” he says. “They asked me to come up with a new curriculum I call L.E.A.D (life skills against drugs) and I’ve been teaching it ever since.”
L.E.A.D takes a different approach than D.A.R.E.
“D.A.R.E. taught kids to just say no,” Lewis says. “L.E.A.D teaches leadership and positive peer pressure skills. I tell the kids peer pressure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can do good things too. The idea is if a friend is pressuring you to do drugs, you can turn it around and call them out and help them. Kids don’t understand they can be influencers. They are far more influential to their peers than I am or even their parents.”
Avon Community Schools uses grant money to fund the full-time resource officers in the school. Lewis says they have five officers throughout the schools, which is sometimes more than are out on the streets policing the town. The school’s investment in L.E.A.D has helped grow the program beyond the school year.
“Our man power at Avon now allows us to have a leadership class in the summer,” Lewis says. “The week-long summer camp talks about leadership skills as well. Students are identified from their classes as leaders, and we give them tools to help guide them.”
One of his former students said the lessons Lewis taught have stuck with him.
“There have been a couple times in high school where I saw kids making bad choices,” says Nico Gargano, Avon High School junior. “His words came up in my head reminding me to walk away. He really helps kids.”
His 12-year-old brother agreed. “He taught us what to say to people who offer us bad things, so that we don’t get hurt,” says Joe Gargano.
Lewis says he enjoys the positive relationships he creates with the students in addition to the lessons he teaches.
“My job, the way I see it, is to wear several hats,” he says. “My last resort hat is a police hat. I get to be a counselor and a mentor before I have to be a police officer. When I do have to be a police officer, there’s a different level of accountability.”