With his serious, no-nonsense look and stocky build, Ariel Santiago feels like an authority figure, but as he moves through the halls at Marie Curie Institute carrying his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, students feel at ease as they greet him and receive a pat on their heads.
Santiago, a member of the Amsterdam Police Department, is a newly hired hall monitor at the school, part of the district-wide initiative to keep students safe in its elementary schools after a threat was made to the Ralph J. McNulty Academy this winter.
“Because of the threat at McNulty, this very positive program has developed in the elementary schools,” Marie Curie principal Mary Mathy said.
Mathy said she thought having hall monitors would be just about protecting children’s safety, but it has evolved into something more, including a way to teach children about making good choices, respecting each other and acting appropriately in school.
Santiago spoke Wednesday to 20 students in Brenden Cetnar’s fifth-grade class about respect for authority and each other and the rules of the school.
“He’ll be talking about basic life skills so the students can get along well with others and make good choices,” Mathy said.
Santiago said he went to Marie Curie and he was once a member of the Greater Amsterdam School Board, so as a police officer he is happy to be working in the schools again.
“I see the whole picture,” he said. “I deal with these kids in school and in the community.”
Sebastian Barquero, 11, said he has never felt unsafe in school, but he thinks it’s important for Santiago to be in the building.
“He takes care of us,” Barquero said. “If something were to happen he could protect us.”
Check back with DailyGazette.com for more on this story or read Thursday’s edition of The Daily Gazette.