By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Maddie Vanover, a sophomore at Lowellville High School, can’t imagine the school day without Capt. Stacy M. Karis.
In between bites of food — Maddie was in the middle of eating lunch — she and her tablemates praised Karis, the district’s first school-resource officer, for “always offering to help” in any way she’s able, whether it’s doling out advice or closing unlocked lockers on her jaunts down the school’s hallways.
“We love her,” Maddie said. “She’s always nice, but when it comes to getting the job done, she does it.”
And, technically, Karis’ job entails serving as a liaison between law enforcement and the community. She’s a police officer who spends eight hours a day, 180 days each year, working in the district’s K-12 school building.
To many of the more than 600 students who attend school in the complex at 52 Rocket Place, though, the 26-year-old Karis has also become a trusted — and approachable — adviser.
“I’m here for the kids,” Karis said. “I’m almost never in my office. But find me, and I will find time in my day to sit down and talk.”
In between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., Karis monitors both arrivals and dismissals, along with lunches, hallways and classrooms, and is “always doing something,” she said.
She added that part of her job as the school-resource officer is to promote the idea that police officers are good, and that if students are ever in trouble, they shouldn’t hesitate to contact her or any members of law enforcement.
“Some students, they don’t like police officers,” Karis said. “But I tell them, ‘You can trust us. We’re not all bad. There are good officers out there, and we’re all good down here in Lowellville.’”
Police Chief Ryan Bonacci said Karis’ position within the school building is a fairly important one, especially after recent tragedies in schools across the country. Having her so firmly enmeshed within the village’s schools also allows the police department to become more visible in the community, interacting with residents and gaining their trust, he said.
“It’s about more than protection and safety. She’s almost like a guidance counselor with a badge,” Bonacci said. “She’s there to be another support system, giving kids another avenue, or another channel to go through.”
This academic year is Karis’ first official one as the school-resource officer for Lowellville schools, though she participated in a trial program from February through May.
Over the summer, the village and the school district elected to keep the program, thanks to a phenomenal response from students and parents, and even from teachers and administrators, Karis said.
“I’ve received very many handshakes from parents who say, ‘We feel a lot safer now that you’re here,’ and a card from a kindergartner that said, ‘Thank you for keeping us safe,’” Karis said. “Stuff like that is what I love.”
Karis earned her associate and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice from Youngstown State University in 2010, then was hired three months later by the village as a part-time officer. After two years, Karis was promoted to full time, and last week became a captain.
Karis remains modest, though, explaining that she feels privileged to have advanced so quickly, and to have been selected as the district’s school-resource officer.
“I’m somebody in the school that can keep the kids safe while they learn,” she said. “I’m somebody who can give parents the peace of mind that their kids will be safe through the school day.”
Rocco Nero, schools superintendent, added that Karis has been “a real blessing” for the school district.
Whenever an issue arises, for instance, Karis is already on hand, at the school building, to address it.
“It’s been relaxing from an administrative point of view,” Nero said. “As long as the district can financially provide it, we will provide it.”