Prevention Resource Officers: A Growing Trend in W.Va. Schools

NITRO, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Walking down the halls of Nitro High School, Officer Ray Blake knows the students by their first names, and to them, he's simply known as "Ray."

"It took a while for the kids to really adapt to me last year because they weren't used to it," Blake said.

Now in his second year at the school, Blake is one of 63 Prevention Resource Officers (PRO) in West Virginia.

Compare that to when the program started 17 years ago with just one officer, who was at Hurricane High School.

"Are you ready for your senior year?" Blake asked Kipp Brewer, a senior.

Blake's office is a familiar spot for Brewer, who's living proof of his impact on students.

"I had a pretty tough year last year with some family issues. He was really there for me," Brewer said. "We'd just talk in here; talk about anything -- sports, music, movies."

"We give them an outlet," Blake said. "If they have problems at home and they really want to talk to us about it, we do what we can to help them."

Make no mistake -- there is discipline when necessary, but many times that's where the "prevention" part of PRO comes into play.

"We have to put out a lot of fires because of social media," Blake said. "We have to calm a lot of these things in the school, so that we don't have any problems when the kids come back to school."

PROs will only be found in middle and high schools in West Virginia.

However, they're not to be confused with School Resource Officers (SRO). Many schools have those, as well. SROs are officers placed in schools primarily for safety, without the additional requirement of mentoring students.

The 63 PROs in West Virginia span across 27 counties. Some of them are funded solely by the counties, while others get a lot of help from federal grant money.

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