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Badges of honor walking the hallways
School Resource Officers (SRO) are a staple in almost every school these days. The roles they play in those hallways and classrooms is beyond law and order.
Two of these local heroes are receiving attention for their impact on our children's lives.
Following years as a director of program development for at-risk youth, Sonya Shepard made the career change to law enforcement. After joining the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, her heart still led her to children.
She chose to accept a position as school resource officer for Destin Elementary.
"I want them to feel safe and know that all they have to do is worry about coming to school to have fun and learn."
That spirit recently earned her the National Association of School Resource Officers' Exceptional Service Award. That's a huge honor when you're entrusted with the care of young ones for whom little things seem so big.
"When they're eight and, you know. Someone's being mean to them, that's a huge thing. And that's an opportunity to develop character and help them learn to express their feelings appropriately."
She's gone "above and beyond"; starting a Junior Deputy program and a leadership club. Shepard makes sure that every child feels special.
She knows them by name; not just a face and she has a way of reaching them all.
"I'm asked all the time, 'How do you communicate with them?' And I'm like, hugs are universal, it doesn't matter. High fives and hugs, everybody knows what that is," she said.
Demeika McClendon is the state of Florida's School Resource Officer of the Year. It was coming full circle for this Niceville High basketball star and graduate to return to her school in the resource officer role and more.
"I'm the coach for basketball, for the girl's basketball team. I started a couple of clubs to get females here at Niceville High School more involved," she explained.
Niceville High Junior Hannah Langston is one of McClendon's basketball players. She said this lady is special.
"It's not just professional. She's got this amazing personality that she always just; she brings in a mood that brightens the room. She's great," she said.
From the patrol car to the coach's bench, Officer McClendon just naturally made her mark all across the campus. From day one, it was about earning the students' respect and trust. Hannah said she certainly did that.
"Just issues with life in general; she's there for us. She's always there to either make us feel better or help us out when we get in a sticky situation," she said.
No sooner had she earned that state title when she was tapped for promotion and named an investigator in the Major Crimes Against Children Unit. Leaving the SRO position is bittersweet, but she sees a message for the students even in that.
"I want to show them that you need to progress. You need to do more. If you're able to offer more; do more," she said.
Shepard and McClendon stress that they accept their awards on behalf of their fellow school resource officers. Their school days are ones Deputy Shepard said they will always treasure.
"Each of those moments are just precious." Investigator McClendon hopes the students do too; "Hopefully they pass that on and say, 'You know, I had an SRO at Niceville High School that was cool and she had our back."
Angels In Our Midst is sponsored by Nemours Children's Specialty Care.