He’s just on a Walkabout

EVERETT — As Brooks Rice strolled along a sidewalk outside the Cascade High School cafeteria, someone hidden inside a bush hissed at him.

“What are you doing?” Rice asked, looking at the bush.

Out jumped a freshman. He showed Rice his fort.

“What’s your name, bro?” Rice asked.

The boy told him. “Who are you?”

“I’m just walking around,” Rice, 27, replied. Then he set off to cover more ground and greet more students.

That’s what he does.

A volunteer with the Walkabout program, Rice spends an hour or two each Thursday walking and talking with Cascade students during their lunch. He keeps an eye out for fights and anything suspicious, but mostly he just chats with students about their classes, activities, and weekend plans.

“I walk around and make sure no one gets in fights, but no one ever has,” said Rice, student pastor at New Life Foursquare church in Everett. “I help students get to class and make sure no one gets in trouble. But for the most part, I have a smile on my face and make sure students know I care about them and love them.”

After hearing about Walkabout programs at nearby middle schools, student adviser Kim Liebscher decided to bring Walkabout to Cascade last year. She recruited some parents and school volunteers to begin patrolling the hallways and sidewalks throughout the day.

By the end of the year, 12 volunteers were enrolled in the program. This school year, there’s only six: three parents and three people without kids at Cascade.

Liebscher hopes to expand the program and find more volunteers willing to watch over Cascade’s 1,800 students.

“With a school this size, the more people you can get to be involved and see how great the school is, the better,” she said.

Some parents who have considered volunteering seem uneasy about invading their teens’ privacy by showing up in the lunchroom, but students seem to appreciate the company of adults who are there because they want to be there, principal Cathy Woods said.

“I really believe kids need adults they feel connected to, especially kids whose family lives are more difficult,” she said.

Sophomore Sarah Oss enjoys giving Rice high-fives in the hallway. She said Walkabout volunteers make her school a better place just by talking with students.

“If they come and they just kind of say, ‘Hi,’ to us, it puts you in a better mood,” she said, after greeting Rice in the cafeteria. “It makes you happy.”

Jesse Young, a freshman, didn’t know about the Walkabout program until he ran into Rice last week.

After meeting Rice, who goes by “Brooks” in school, Jesse said he liked the idea of Walkabout. Some teens may not understand why the volunteers are there, but by watching over everyone, they make the school safer, he said.

“They keep the area well-maintained and make sure things don’t get out of hand,” he said.

Though the volunteers leave discipline to teachers and administrators, if they see something strange, they are supposed to mention it to a staff member or call for help.

On Kyle Wendling’s first day as a Walkabout volunteer, he saw a student take a swing at a teacher. He called for help and later wrote a police report on the incident.

That was a year ago.

Since then, his Walkabout experiences have been much tamer and he has come to really enjoy the program. He recently decided to double his Walkabout duties and volunteer at Eisenhower Middle School as well.

“As I walk by certain groups that might be yelling or cursing at each other, it seems like they tone it down,” said Wendling, 26. “I just think it’s a great way for community members to get involved and to show kids community members and adults care for them.”

Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

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