The Arkansas City Police Department is stepping up its efforts to reach out to the youth of Ark City.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

In an attempt to bridge any gap between ACPD and the school district, officers have started eating lunch with local elementary school students.

ACPD Lt. Eric Burr called it an extension of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

The school district provided the police department with the lunch schedules of all six USD 470 elementary schools.

So far, three schools have been visited, one of which is Jefferson Elementary, located at 131 E. Osage Ave.

Sometimes, only two officers are able to make it to lunch, but as many who can visit try to make it to the schools.

“We just sit with a group of kids, and then go out to recess and play with them,” Burr said.

Burr has been in law enforcement for 20 years and seen instances in which children are taught to fear the police.

“We want to show that police officers can be trusted — that we’re human, too,” he said.

He said the kids “love it” when the officers visit them. They are very social with the officers and often begin speaking to them as soon as they sit down for lunch. “There’s no apprehension,” Burr said.

Any social barriers cease to exist when the students interact with the officers, he said.

When Burr visited Jefferson, he was partnered with Officer Matt Mayo, who still was in training.

The two officers ate with the fourth-graders before Christmas and at recess, they discovered the students had a favorite activity.

“They’re big into four square,” Burr said. He estimated 90 percent of the students play four square at recess.

The object of the game of four square is to eliminate players in higher squares so one can advance to the highest square. The game is played with a rubber playground ball on a square court with four players, each occupying a quarter of the court, according to www.squarefour.com.

The ball is bounced between players in squares until someone makes an error and is eliminated.

Eliminated players leave the court, all players advance to fill the empty squares and a new player joins at the lowest-numbered square.

But at Jefferson, the students were playing four square without any squares. “They were using cracks in the pavement,” Burr said.

Burr said Mayo solicited donations of paint and supplies to paint a court for the students. “Don’t let him (Burr) tell you it was all me,” Mayo said.

Several members of the police force helped to paint an official four square court on the pavement at Jefferson.

ACPD revealed the court on Twitter in late December. Burr said it would be fun to challenge the fourth-graders to a four square match.

“Even Lee’s gettin ready! We r going to bring our game to the 4th Grd @ Jefferson Elem,” the ACPD Twitter feed boasted in a post that included a photo of officers on the new four square court.

“Today is the first day back (for the students),” Burr said Jan. 5, but he was unsure if the children would be able to play outside due to the cold.