Officer's visits bring smiles to young students

March 17, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

The burly man in blue spends most of his nights on a patrol beat along U.S. Route 1 in Jessup.

But on most weekday mornings, he's a joy to elementary school students at two schools in Ellicott City and Columbia.

Actually, that's an understatement. According to 6-year-old Christopher Parton, a student at Longfellow Elementary in Columbia, Howard County police Officer Marc L. Kulasa "is funner than Barney."

Several times a week, after 10 hours on the night shift, Officer Kulasa volunteers his free time as a mentor to 17 Longfellow first-graders. He also spends time helping two students at St. John's Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City, where he has volunteered since September 1992.

"Getting to them this young could keep them out of trouble when they get older," said Officer Kulasa, a four-year veteran. "It's such a great feeling when you're doing something worthwhile and positive and when you see the smiles on their faces."

The officer's routine -- which centers around his 11 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. shift -- leaves little time for rest and relaxation. But he says the reaction he gets from students is compensation enough.

"Before, I didn't feel good about school," said Breon Wise, 9, a fourth-grader at Saint John's Lane. "I thought it was spoiling my time. Now, I know what it's for. You get a diploma and go to college."

Third-grader Bryan Cross, 9, of Saint John's Lane, said he's not only grateful to Officer Kulasa for the fishing lessons, but for tips on how to control his temper when other children taunt him.

Officer Kulasa says his mentoring is a mix of role-model guidance, homework tutorials, dinner outings, safety lectures, story readings and play. At both elementary schools, he eats lunch or breakfast with children and helps them with homework in his police car, solving math problems as a police radio chatters in the background.

"He's real special," said Darlene Fila, an assistant principal at St. John's Lane. "He's a respected authority figure who gives kids someone they can identify with. That helps their self-esteem."

Longfellow educators said Officer Kulasa's interaction with students has boosted attendance, improved peer relations and has cut down on the number of unruly students sent to the principal's office.

Wendy Parrott, who teaches the class that Officer Kulasa visits, says one 6-year-old rarely participated in class and seldom smiled until the officer began coming to the school last fall.

Now, the boy plays with the other youngsters and brags about his regular trips to Burger King or to play basketball with Officer Kulasa.

"It's been wonderful," Mrs. Parrott said. "He gives each of them special attention and makes everything they're doing seem important to them."

At 6 feet, 5 inches and 240 pounds, the 28-year-old officer obviously attracts immediate attention in the scaled-down world of a first-grade class room.

As he enters unannounced at Longfellow, the kids break from their learning session and run to his knees, jumping, smiling and competing for attention.

The first Longfellow student to reach the officer and hug his leg is always Ben Sullivan, who says he's "six and a quarter." In a homemade newspaper designed by students last week, Tiffany Matthew shows her drawing of a group of students holding hands, following a smiling "Officer Marc" to his police car.

Meanwhile, other students pull out small leather wallets with toy police badges.

"The most important thing is just to have someone show they care about them," said Longfellow assistant principal Arlene Harrison.

Officer Kulasa said someday he'd like to work for the police department's youth services section.

He and his wife Susan, a Baltimore County elementary teacher, are expecting their first child in October. "Even after a family, I'll still be back," he said. "There's always time."

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