New school resource officer aims to be a mentor for Portage students
When Pete Warning was growing up in Oshkosh, his first interaction with law enforcement was running up to a police squad car and requesting to trade baseball cards with the officers inside.
From that moment on, he had an itch to join law enforcement.
“I wanted my family to be able to look up to me in my career,” Warning said. “It’s an honorable calling.”
Now Warning, 37, hopes to be a mentor to students of all ages in the Portage School District, where on Jan. 2 he shifted from the role of a patrol officer to working as the police department’s school resource officer.
Part of the reason Portage Police Department wanted to create the position was to have an officer on hand to prepare students and faculty for how to respond to an active attack scenario.
“I think it’s important that we’re preventive rather than reactive,” Warning said. “For us all to be prepared for it is the key and vital.”
Another reason was to reduce the use of drugs in the community and high school.
“I hope to educate the students out here about what drugs actually do to their bodies,” Warning said. “I’ve learned that if you talk to students like they’re human beings and not talk down to them, they tend to learn better and they are more receptive to what I’m saying.”
Warning said he knows of students bringing Xanax, marijuana, methamphetamine and other drugs to the high school and he aims to combat the spread of drugs among minors.
“Those are the big ones that we see, I don’t want to say often, but on a steady basis in the city between overdoses related to heroin,” Warning said. “Two people that we know of are dealing cocaine, and it seems that everybody is involved in marijuana in some way, shape or form.”
On the morning of National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on Wednesday, he visited Portage High School for a meet and greet event featuring a cart loaded with boxes of doughnut holes before striding down the crowded hallways to find a classroom with the sign “Wellness Way,” where he was due to give a lesson on the effects of drug use to Nancy Ziegler’s health sciences and career education students.
‘Brings us all together’
Ziegler and Warning have been planning days for him to visit the high school and give guest presentations to her students for more than a month. She said they brainstormed relevant material.
Having Warning teach students about drugs helps to educate them about making healthy choices and presented “an opportunity for students to have a mentor and to have someone to go to they trust.” Ziegler said. “He knows people in this community, he knows their parents. ... It brings us all together.”
Warning also plans to teach crash courses on search and seizure orders to instruct students of their legal rights and on how active warrants work. He also teaches traffic safety to younger children at the elementary schools in Portage.
Ziegler and Warning will visit the Capitol in Madison on Feb. 6-8 to meet with legislators and health professionals at an event sponsored by the HOSA Future Health Professionals organization.
In Ziegler’s classroom Wednesday morning, Warning sailed the conversation into uncharted waters when he asked how many students supported the legalization of marijuana.
Two said they were so-so with halfway-raised hands. Others offered a resounding no.
Free dessert for breakfast
Warning chatted with students as they poured into the cafeteria Wednesday morning and offered them all free doughnuts.
“You know you want a doughnut. Don’t play like that, come have some,” he teased a student as she tried to sneak past the cart where Warning stood behind a cart loaded with powdered pastries.
Another student asked, “Can I have a box?”
“No,” Warning responded. “Let’s save some for others.”
Warning spoke to four students about their career aspirations and interests. He was humbled by all of their responses. One teen said he wants to join the army. Another student hopes to build homes. The third student was passionate about sports. Another intends to enlist in the National Guard.
Warning kept his gaze focused on the doors as the last few stragglers double-timed it through the main doors in the last three seconds before the bell for first period rang.
After giving the lesson in Ziegler’s class, he repeated the process of charging down the hallways in a fast walk to report to duty at the doughnut station again.
“Take bites, don’t breathe it in,” he cautioned a male student.
Warning paused to reflect. In all, he said, “There’s a lot of good kids here at this school.”