Ferndale school hosts a fire chief and police officer, breaks down stereotypes

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Fire Chief Teresa Robinson and Officer Jillian Mahlmeister of the Ferndale Police Department celebrated Reading Month on March 11 marking the first year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that Ferndale Lower Elementary was, once again, able to open its doors to guest readers for the reading celebration.  

For some of these children, this was their first time ever experiencing an event like this. Community leaders with whom they otherwise might not come in close contact come into the class, read a few stories and allowed for questions about their job to break down the wall between public figures and school children. 

Officer Mahlmeister reached out to the school to see if it was allowing visitors. As the community engagement officer, it is her job to reach out to organizations and schools and to attend events. Reading for elementary school children is something public figures would do throughout March; however, due to COVID-19, schools were no longer allowing that. 

Officer Mahlmeister was happy to hear that Ferndale schools were allowing this again because of her commitment to community engagement.

Officer Mahlmeister said, “I think it’s nice seeing and putting a smile on people’s faces. Just again, those positive interactions. This may be the first experience a child has with an officer, and I want it to be a positive one.”

Photo Courtesy of Jillian Mahlmeister
Officer Mahlmeister reads “The Wonky Donkey” by Craig Smith to a class at Ferndale Lower Elementary.

Officer Mahlmeister reached out to Fire Chief Robinson to see if she was interested in attending visitor reading day at the elementary school.

Kathleen Hayden teaches second grade at Ferndale Lower Elementary and had that opportunity for Chief Robinson to read for her class, and the children and their parents loved it. 

Hayden said this helps to make the children more comfortable around authority figures and see them outside of their typical environment. Most of the time, when children would see a firefighter, it would be if there was an accident or a fire, and the situation needed a paramedic or someone to put out the fire. 

Photo Courtesy of Jillian Mahlmeister
After reading stories to a second grade class, Police Chief Teresa Robinson opens the floor up for discussion about the book and questions about her job.

She said visits like this would make the students realize that these public figures are real people, too. This would make it less scary for the students if they happened to see a firefighter or police officer on the street because they would not automatically associate them with a negative situation or danger. 

Chief Robinson thought it was particularly important for the children to see women in positions of authority because it breaks down the predetermined ideas that children have about what a firefighter or police officer should be. 

“For me personally, as a female in a chief position, I have a huge responsibility to be out there and be an example of breaking those stereotypes,” said Robinson before going into how one of the teachers was unknowingly referring to her as a man prior to her arrival. When Robinson arrived, the teacher corrected herself and told the class that she was wrong, and that is why it is harmful to assume.

Hayden said this is just the beginning of the month’s celebrations, and with COVID-19 restrictions lessening, the first of many visitor experiences for these children.

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