Students and parents can breathe a little easier with the addition of a full-time school resource officer from the Apache Junction Police Department on campus at Cactus Canyon Junior High School, 801 W. Southern Ave. in Apache Junction.
Cpl. Masrhall Harshman is paid through a grant from Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief funds (ESSER II and III). Harshman joins Officer Jomo Wright who is the SRO at nearby Apache Junction High School.
Both Harshman’s and Wright’s roles are to ensure safety, prevent problems and build positive relationships with the students.
“I want to make CCJH a place where students and teachers can feel safe so that they can concentrate on their educational goals,” said Harshman. “I hope to be a source of confidence for parents who send their kids to CCJH.”
Police presence on the campus is more than deterring external threats.
“I want to build trust with the kids through positive interactions. Generally speaking people only call the police when something has gone wrong so interactions between SRO’s and students could be the only positive interaction kids in our community have with Law Enforcement,” said Harshman. “It’s important to start building the partnership between law enforcement and the community early in the lives of our kids.”
Harshman starts and ends his day at the intersection of Southern and San Marcos where he directs traffic. Due to the inclusion sixth graders at CCJH, there are more students than in past years and through his direction dropoff and pickup traffic flows more smoothly.
However, once school is in session CCJH’s SRO spends a significant amount of time patrolling the campus and checking perimeter doors and being on the lookout for possible safety issues or potential threats. Prevention is also key. The police officer is present in the courtyard during passing periods in the hopes that his presence discourages kids from using that time to get into trouble.
So far, Harshman’s role on campus has had a positive effect. However, in spite of the relative calm, Harshman has been well-trained and keeps a vigilant eye to protect CCJH’s students, teachers and staff.
So far, the 2022-23 school year has been quiet.
“My most exciting moment so far this year was catching a six-inch scorpion that was crawling around one of the classrooms in the 200 building,” Harshman said.
The unwelcome arachnid was released in the state trust land just east of the school.
While Harshman’s role is new to some newcomers, many students and parents remember him from his previous assignment of five years as a D.A.R.E. officer at Apache Junction Unified School District. He also coached cross county during that time.
The AJUSD connection runs even deeper.
Harshman, and his wife Kristian Harshman, put their six children through AJUSD schools. The police corporal’s mother-in-law, Elaine Fugate, taught at CCJH for 40 years.
Kristian Harshman was both a student and a teacher for the district. She attended Superstition Mountain Elementary School, Apache Junction Junior High School (the former name of the junior high) and then graduated from AJHS in 1988. After getting her degree in education she returned to teach at Thunder Mountain Middle School, CCJH and AJHS.
“My wife and I have put six kids through AJUSD schools. All of them graduated from AJHS. They were well served by our district,” said Harshman. “My position as SRO is not simply a job, it is a passion. I have a heart for the city of Apache Junction and for AJUSD. I want to see our schools and our kids succeed.”
CCJH emphasizes a well-rounded education where academics, sports and extracurricular activities allow students to grow scholastically, physically and emotionally. CCJH students can get a head start on funding their college education by signing up for Pinal Promise in junior high. The program offers a tuition-free education at Central Arizona College for those who fulfill the requirements and graduate from participating high schools in Pinal County such as Apache Junction High School.
For more information about CCJH or AJUSD schools and enrollment visit ajusd.org.