First Flight Middle SRO Edward Cottrell has a well-stocked toolkit
Dare County Sheriff's Office Corporal Edward Cottrell, the School Resource Officer (SRO) at First Flight Middle School, learned the traditional Japanese art form of Origami from his Japanese mother.
Origami, from the Japanese words ori ("folding") and kami ("paper"), is the art of paper folding. And it is one of a variety of unorthodox skills and disciplines Cottrell uses to build positive relationships based on trust with the school's 6th-8th grade students.
Involving students in Origami, Cottrell explains, began with "a group of young ladies who taught each other different projects," including crafts such as wrapping sea glass. Sitting in on their "classes," Cottrell took a turn and taught some basics of Origami. More recently he has responded to students' requests for Origami Cranes by creating and distributing them during lunch period.
Cottrell’s other skills include designing and fabricating Halloween costumes for students who request them four to six months in advance. Some favorites include Master Chief from the Halo video games, Big Hero 6 and Buzz Lightyear. The costumes light up, speak and are remarkably lifelike. In conjunction with that, Cottrell speaks to Social Studies classes about Halloween safety "do’s and don't do’s."
One other weapon in his arsenal: a well-equipped toolkit complete with nose pieces and 1,000 screws of every conceivable size and shape that function as a "problem solver" for students — most often repairing eye glasses.
"When you get the trust of the kids, they will come in and tell you things," says Cottrell. He adds that, “Some people want my office to be neat. I want my office to be interesting, so the kids will come and feel easy.”
Cottrell, who lives in Colington with his wife and two sons, became certified in Basic Law Enforcement Training through the College of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City in 1993. Hired by the Dare Sheriff's Office in 1994, he began serving as First Flight Middle School's SRO in 2015.
He is a certified G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education And Training) instructor, teaching the 13-week course to sixth graders as part of the physical education health curriculum. The grant-funded program aims to build more positive relationships between youth and local law enforcement, while working to reduce gang activity and develop skills for dealing with such issues as bullying and peer pressure.
Cottrell explains that the course provides instruction on the realities of gang violence, helping to dismantle some of the "romanticized" views of being in a gang, while educating on such issues as consequences to actions, being part of the local community, the importance of empathy and sympathy, anger management and conflict resolution.
As the students learn about the power of peer pressure — and the challenge of saying "No" to a friend — he says they also learn strategies to effectively refuse to participate in unproductive activities and to persuade friends to do the same. "If you're going to have a good friend, you have to be a good friend," Cottrell explains.
Also occasionally working as a substitute teacher at First Flight Elementary School, Cottrell says being a school resource officer is both challenging and rewarding — and "my favorite job so far. It's different every single day."
Cottrell works during summer breaks with the sheriff's Camp SALT, which allows SROs to continue working with students when school is out. He says the challenging physical activities — such as the climbing tower and wall, along with sports, games and field trips to a host of destinations — build "lasting memories" and impart in the students the ability to overcome fears and "push themselves farther than they thought they could go."
Following the tragic school shooting last February in Parkland, Florida, Cottrell says SROs are on the front lines of preventing any similar horrors. He is currently reading the 500-page report from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, explaining that, "Reading reports like this you get to see what worked and what didn't work. And it helps me do my job better."
Discussing his experiences encountering some of his former students who are now grown up, Cottrell says it is rewarding to know he had a role in their transformation into young adults.
"To see how much they've changed, how much they've matured, to be able to have an adult conversation with them,” he adds. “Those are things that make you proud."