WALLENPAUPACK - Wallenpaupack Middle School students met the challenge presented to them by members of the American Legion Wilson-Kelch Post 311. Posed with a question about building respect for state and local law enforcement, numerous students shared their thoughts on how officers should be treated and what more should be done so respect is shown to those who protect them.

Joe Majesky, who was a corpsman in the Navy during the Vietnam War and is a member of the Legion, said he was pleased with the essays, but the three winning essays were impressive.

The first place winner from the sixth grade, Eli Peifer wrote that she believes respect can be “built by many ways” for local and state law enforcement. She suggested police officers visit schools, where they can teach students about “what they do and why they do it.” If, at an early age children learn that “police are good,” once they are older they will then be respectful, while also friendships may be formed between the officers and children.

Simply, the first place winner from the seventh grade, Maya Pagano wrote that respect can be formed if police interact with their community by visiting schools and hosting programs for youth to learn about their jobs, so they will know what is done to “keep us safe.” Then, the same should happen for members of the community, so they too learn and the officers should present demonstrations, since the “goal is to educate others.”

The first place winner from the eighth grade, Megan Desmet said there are many options for respect to be gained for law enforcement, but people must get involved. By having ceremonies to recognize the law enforcement’s “contributions,” people will become educated of what the officers do to protect the public. Once people learn the officers’ responsibilities, “they will be thankful and not take law enforcement for granted.”

Peifer suggested students tour police barracks, because then, they will have an insight to how the officers keep people safe. By having such tours, respect will be gained by all, since some may not be aware of what officers are already doing. Through such tours, adults too will learn that protecting the public is “hard work” Peifer wrote.

Pagano suggested “youth engagement programs” be created, so children will “interact with law enforcement personnel” through programs that will show them examples of how the law should be respected. Some children may like the programs so much, that Pagano thought they may be inspired to then, someday pursue the profession because they are the “generation of the future.”

Ceremonies too, Desmet suggested so officers could be honored and children can learn the “importance of law enforcement and respect they deserve” she wrote. Learning to respect those who serve early on is important, because as they grow, they will share their insight and so, those who serve will be respected as they work in the “dangerous and challenging work of law enforcement.”

The “hardest” suggestion Peifer posed, was having celebrities speak on behalf of police officers because of the many fans, like herself who “look up to them.” While she feels recruiting celebrities to talk on behalf of members of the law enforcement would be challenging, she also feels “we can do it.”

By police having “positive interactions” with members of the community, Pagano wrote that the interaction would build “trust and legitimacy with adults” and then, members of the law enforcement would have a “positive influence” on the neighbors as programs could be created to address crime. Groups like neighborhood watches will “strengthen the bonds between the people and law enforcement.”

Desmet suggested officers visit schools and have lunch with students, where they will then inform the children about what they do in the community. By there being such meetings, Desmet believes students will become informed about the “danger law enforcement puts themselves in” she wrote. From that knowledge, more respect would be created. If the officers discuss the duties of their job, then Desmet believes children will learn they are “not in harm’s way because of law enforcement” and respect will continue to grow.

No matter a person’s age, Pagano wrote that respecting those who serve is important and it is easy because “everyone can pitch in.” Respect though, should always be given to law enforcement, even though it doesn’t always happen.

Everyday, Desmet said members of the law enforcement “risk their lives” and help people in their “times of need.” For those reasons, they should be respected by everyone. Offering several suggestions as to how the community can unite to present the respect, people must “get involved” in order to support the law enforcement.

The contest was open to all students and the teachers chose the winners. Monetary prizes were given by the Legion, to the first, second and third place winners of each grade. Majeskey said members of the Hawley American Legion enjoy being involved in the community and so, every summer two high school students are sponsored to attend a camp where they learn about Pennsylvania.

From the students’ responses to the question, Majesky said he hopes members of the law enforcement in the region will respond to the students’ request to meet them. One essay participant recalled when students made sandwiches for the state police as they searched for Eric Frein in 2014. A clear opinion through all of the essays Majesky said, was that members of the law enforcement do not get enough respect.

As a member of the Legion, Majesky said he would like people to know that the Legion is not just a “place for veterans” but instead a “part of the community.” Those who served in more recent wars like the Persian, Gulf or Iraq wars, Majesky hopes will get involved because no matter the war, the reality is that they have shared experiences and they know, “it’s war.” Sitting down and talking with someone who understands, he believes is important, despite the age differences. Talking to someone who understands, Majesky said is “crucial” and so he would like more veterans to join the Legion so they know there is support for them in their community.

Members of the Hawley American Legion Post 311 will take part in the Hawley Memorial Day Parade and hamburgers and hotdogs will follow. The parade starts at 1 p.m on Sunday, May 27; the Post 311 ceremony follows, at the Veteran’s Monument along Park Place, across from Bingham Park.

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