Like most returning students, Amanda Wilson Wright knows her way around Evanston Township High School. But when school opened on Monday, she distinguished herself from the teens in their first-day-of-school outfits. She was wearing a uniform and a badge.
This fall Officer Wright, ETHS Class of 1996, is back at her alma mater as a school resource officer, investigating crimes for the Evanston Police Department.
Having transitioned into the position last November under her predecessor, Carl Fowler, she is beginning her first full year as the liaison between ETHS and the EPD. “I am the law enforcement official in the school … and a resource for the community around the school,” says Officer Wright.
She is the first female officer – and only the second person – to serve in that capacity. Mr. Fowler, she says, was the original resource officer at ETHS and stayed there 16 years. Though not on the job, he is still around, says Officer Wright: “I call him when I have questions.”
She describes the job as “a lot of work” because, she says, “something goes on every day” at ETHS, which numbers its student body at around 3,500. Last year she estimates there were one or two arrests a month at the school.
Officer Wright is called on to mediate everything “from Internet bullying to fights,” she says.
Such incidents “go through channels,” she says, with her as “the last resource.” Problems are reported first to one of the four class deans and, when necessary, come to her to determine whether an arrest is warranted.
Officer Wright works closely with the security force and has hometown connections that include having had one of the guards as a preschool teacher. Praising their professionalism, she says, “There’s one of me and a lot of them. They’re the backbone of safety” at ETHS.
But the responsibilities of the school resource officer extend beyond getting the facts that may lead to an arrest. “Most of police work is counseling,” she says. “You have to get to know people, talk to them … treat them with respect.”
It is work to which Officer Wright says she thinks she is well suited. “I like trying to help kids make the right decisions,” she says. When she deals with students in the wake of a fight, she says she “let[s] them know they’re here for education” and advises them, “Don’t let anyone one stop you from getting an education. Don’t let someone get you so upset” that your schooling suffers.”
It is a message she also shares through volunteering. Under the auspices of her African-American sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, she began mentoring a seventh-grade girl who is now at the high school.
Her advice is honed from personal experience. She says she tells young people to “steer away from negativity”; “stay grounded and focused”; and “be a leader, not a follower.” She tells them, “Think for yourself. Try to make stuff happen. Don’t just wait for it to fall in your lap.”
And, she says, look beyond Evanston.
“I try to instill in [young people] what my parents and grandma and grandpa did,” she says. Not only did they set an example for her by their hard work, but they also sent her another clear message. Despite the fact that “we were broke,” she says, they told her from an early age that she was expected to go to college.
“I didn’t want to disappoint my family,” she says.
At ETHS she held a job and played basketball and softball. Then, like all her good friends, she graduated from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and criminal justice.
With her sights set on becoming a school counselor, she went on to complete a master’s degree in education. But the EPD desk job she took to pay for graduate school led her to police work instead. After two years on the police force in Hazelcrest, IL., Officer Wright came back to her hometown three and a half years ago.
She realizes her current job is not far from the career she had planned. As a school resource officer, she says, she can “be someone the kids trust and can talk to. My door is open.” Building relationships with students, she says, means they will be “less likely to act out.”
Despite her involvement with crime, she calls the ETHS students “a great group of kids” and says there is “a very positive atmosphere at the high school.” Her hope is that teens “take advantage of what we have in Evanston.” Experience elsewhere has shown her, she says, that “ETHS has a lot … for kids.”