Officers stationed at WJH schools aim to help kids feel safe
Officer Lauren Porupsky greeted students at Gill Hall Elementary School with high-fives and smiles as she walked through the hallways on her first full day in the school.
Inside the cafeteria during lunch, first-graders raised their hands, wanting to ask questions of the woman in uniform.
“I know why she’s here,” said Kenna Colflesh, 6. “She can help people. She’s here to save us.”
Lauren Porupsky is one of the armed police officers who will be stationed at all five West Jefferson Hills schools within the next week, as one of many efforts the district is taking to bolster security.
“It’s just having a physical presence, knowing that whenever you come on that campus, there is an armed officer there for security purposes,” said Officer James Modrak, director of security.
Since Superintendent Michael Ghilani was hired in 2017, Modrak said, the district has been working on efforts to increase security, including piloting metal detectors at Thomas Jefferson High School and adding specialty locks to classroom doors.
The district has partnered for several years with Pleasant Hills Borough to place Officer Ronald Porupsky — who also is Lauren’s husband — in district buildings as a school resource officer.
Within the last several months, the district has worked to create its own police force, said Modrak, a longtime school resource officer from Bethel Park who started in West Jefferson Hills in September 2017.
The district interviewed 15 officers for the open positions, Modrak said. They wanted officers with experience and who could communicate effectively with kids and parents.
The officers all will go through training from the National Association of School Resource Officers, which teaches them how to serve as security/law enforcement as well as mentors and educators in the schools.
Modrak also is working closely with Pleasant Hills, Jefferson Hills and Elizabeth Borough police departments, along with South Hills Area Council of Governments, for training.
Each officer will be assigned a school and get to know the kids and families there. They also will familiarize themselves with the other schools, so they can act in the event of an emergency.
Ronald Porupsky will be stationed at Pleasant Hills Middle School; Modrak will be at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Officer Mike Farrell, 56, of Mt. Lebanon, who joined West Jefferson Hills police after retiring from Whitehall police in March, will be stationed at McClellan Elementary.
Farrell, who worked in Whitehall for 27 years, brings plenty of experience working in schools to the job. Whitehall officers working daylight shifts visited a Baldwin-Whitehall school each day to get familiar with the school and help kids get used to seeing an officer in uniform, said Farrell.
“I’m here to help. I’m here to make a difference,” he said. “I have a skill set to help keep the school environment safe.”
Just down the road at Jefferson Hills Intermediate School, Officer Marlin Foulds, 46, a parent of three West Jefferson Hills students, helps open milk containers and watches kids play on the playground.
He works from a small office that was once a closet at the entrance of the school, watching security footage and ensuring the building is secure.
Foulds spent 24 years with the Pennsylvania State Police in Belle Vernon before retiring in January.
“It seemed like a good fit,” he said.
Officer Lauren Porupsky, 41, of Peters Township, worked as a part-time police officer in Clairton for four years and a 911 dispatcher in Pleasant Hills. That was 12 years ago, before she took a break from policing to be a mom. She also worked as a desk officer at Pleasant Hills for six years.
Now that her kids are teens, it was time for her come back to the job she loves.
“The thought of being able to help take care of kids, it revives me,” she said.
Standing at the edge of the Gill Hall cafeteria, Lauren Porupsky smiled as she watched the little ones.
“I would die for these kids. I will protect them as if they’re my own,” she said, adding she hopes she can help kids feel safe and not worry about the dangers of the world.
“I want the kids to know when they come to school that they’re here to learn and they don’t have to worry about the big bad world,” she said. “I just want to be a positive part of their life.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.