Whitehall police officer Mark Showalter closely watches and listens to students each day in the hallways of Whitehall-Yearling High School -- and he knows the students are watching him, too.

Consistency, Showalter said, is currency.

"Are you the same guy today they saw last month? Did you follow through with what you said? It takes time to earn their trust. They aren't just going to give it to you," said Showalter, in his third year as Whitehall-Yearling's school resource officer.

This year, Showalter is earning that trust every minute of every day.

With the assistance of a three-year U.S. Department of Justice grant worth $250,000, the Whitehall Division of Police has increased its number of school resource officers from one to three, allowing Showalter to serve exclusively at the high school.

In addition to the grant, the school district contributes 15 percent toward the cost of the two additional officers, said Deputy Chief Tracy Sharpless.

The annual salary range for one officer is about $60,000 to $88,000, with benefits equal to about 23 percent of the salary.

As part of the process, the city agreed to fund the two additional positions for a year after the grant expires, Sharpless said.

Joining Showalter this year as school resource officers are Mike Dillon at Rosemore Middle School and Erick Hollyfield at Beechwood, Etna Road and Kae Avenue elementary schools.

Staying in one place

With the addition of Dillon and Hollyfield, Showalter no longer is required to leave Whitehall-Yearling to respond to Rosemore Middle School or the elementary schools for interventions.

More significantly, Dillon and Hollyfield can fill the role of a daily mentor at the schools they serve.

"This lunchroom and these hallways are my office," said Hollyfield, 43, an 18-year veteran of the division, during a recent visit to Etna Road Elementary School, where students raced to meet him, some even giving up a prime spot in the lunch line to snag a hug or a fist bump.

"Lunch is the highlight of my day," said Hollyfield, because it provides a friendly, informal environment to freely interact with the students.

A father of three children, Hollyfield said he finds his parenting experience sometimes proves more beneficial than his policing experience in fulfilling his new role.

Hollyfield communicates daily with school principals and, when necessary, with social workers.

"But it's mostly about being a mentor and being there to listen," Hollyfield said.

Dillon, 38, a 16-year-veteran of the force, takes a similar approach at Rosemore Middle School.

"I want to have a positive influence on the students here," said Dillon, adding he strives to help guide students to make good choices.

"More and more students are approaching me now and becoming comfortable," and that will help begin changing behaviors, Dillon said.

Showalter said he already has seen such changes at Whitehall-Yearling High School, where group fights were not uncommon when he became the school's resource officer in 2015.

Showalter began taking an individual approach to students, and it has been met with success, he said.

"When you can find out what's missing, you can get a sense of direction (and) how to help them," said Showalter, 47, a 25-year police veteran.

Making a difference

Digging deeper often leads to a resolution, Showalter said.

Social media are common sources of discord, but Showalter said once he can "dissect" the issue and talk to everyone involved, including parents, the problem often subsides.

"Whitehall has good kids," he said, adding last week he was pleased to learn a student he met last year is making good on a promise.

Kayla Oliver, 17, a junior at Whitehall-Yearling, eagerly showed Showalter her improved grades.

"(My grades) were bad last year and I made a promise to get better grades," said Oliver, who is working toward a 4.0 grade-point average and wants to be a pediatric nurse.

Showalter said when he met Oliver last year, "she did not have a great attitude -- but we talked about the importance of good grades and she has responded."

While such personal interactions with students are at the core of being a school-resource officer, Showalter also investigates truancies and missing juveniles, watches for unauthorized entries into the school and makes sure exterior doors are secured.

"(Showalter) is a great resource to have," said high school principal Paul Smathers. "He is here not only when there is a crisis but to be a part of everything we do here."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo