ELIZABETH A. CONKEY
BENNINGTON -- Mount Anthony Union High School will welcome students through its doors Tuesday morning for the first day of the 2013-2014 school year.
With Tuesday fast approaching, MAU's four-member Security Management Team is gearing up for another full year of counseling, advocating, mediating, and of course, safety enforcement.
MAU Dean of Students David Beriau, one member of the SMT, will waste no time reminding students of past infractions come Tuesday. He has a stack of disciplinary referrals from last spring on his desk just waiting to be handed out during lunch on Tuesday.
Beriau wears a smile and speaks in cool tones, but you can tell he means business.
"The key is consistency," Beriau said. "Students might think we'll forget what they did during the last week of school, but that's not the case. They will still face the consequences of their actions."
The team also consists of former Vermont State Police Officer Paul Barci, former Municipal Police Chief Victor Milani, and paraprofessional Terri Thurber.
Together, Thurber and Beriau have more than 40 years of experience working closely with students. Barci and Milani, although fairly recent additions, joining the team five years ago, feel their unit is both effective and successful in their common goals of creating a safe and respectful environment conducive to learning.
Beriau said a large part of their job involves simply taking the time to truly listen to students and the struggles they face on a daily basis, no matter how trivial they may seem.
Their general mission as a team, he said, is to teach students to be civil, respectful, responsible, accurate, and, of course, safe, all the while maintaining a reputation of being "fair, but firm."
"It's a lot of counseling, a lot of listening, getting kids back on the right track," he said. "We've worked hard to establish a good rapport among the students. They really trust us."
Barci, the only uniformed member of the team, works to monitor safety outside of MAU's doors, as well as in, with help from a member from the Bennington County Sheriff's Department. Together, they patrol the school's grounds and parking lots during high traffic periods -- namely, lunchtime.
Barci said he believes wholeheartedly in allowing students the opportunity to make the right choice, even after they make a mistake.
"A lot of the time, they just need to cool off, talk about the situation, and have me explain to them why their conduct was inappropriate," he said. "It's not always about making the actual mistake. It's about solving the problem and changing their behavior in the future."
Milani, also a firm believer in helping students realize their mistakes in a constrictive manner, said the team takes great pride in their philosophy and methods of action.
"We always work as a team," he said. "We're consistent in the type of discipline we carry out -- we absolutely do not have favorites."
Milani went on to explain that the group is passionate about ensuring that students feels safe and secure at all times while in school.
"If a student does not feel comfortable, that will impact their ability to learn," he said. "We want everyone to work to his or her full potential, not have any fear or feel uncomfortable for any reason."
Thurber, the sole female in the group, explained that any and all information shared between students and the team remains confidential. She thinks that perhaps this is what has helped the group to foster such strong relationships with the students over the years. It could also be due to the fact that students are invited to address each member of the team, with the exception of Beriau, by their first names.
"We always listen to their side of the story," she said. "We always let them know that we are their advocate, and never look down on them. They know we are on their level."
Beriau noted that the presence of a female in the group has proved to be very beneficial over the years.
"The girls, especially, view her as a sort of maternal figure," he explained. "If they have a problem that they wouldn't feel comfortable talking to the rest of us about, they know Terri is available."
According to Barci, the group has the luxury of getting to know students on a more personal, in-depth level than teachers do.
"Most teachers don't have the time to sit down and really get to know their students, find out what's going on at home," he said.
"There are teachers, and then there's us. We have that time," he continued. "Some of these kids deal with some very adult issues. You'd be surprised at how all of that ‘outside' stuff can really weigh on them."
Barci said there have even been instances that he or other team members have taken students home on "rough days" when calming down at school just wasn't an option. This, he explained, can be the difference between a student staying in school or getting suspended.
"We can tell when they're at their limit or just need to get out," he said. "We deal with more drama than the drama club. You can be sure of that," he laughed.
To ensure a constant stream of communication, Beriau said the team meets twice daily, once at midday, and once at the end of the day.
"By meeting regularly, we always know what the others have been dealing with during the day," he said. "It makes it easy to check-in and exchange ideas."
Beriau went on to say that the implementation of a designated security management team has completely changed the tone of MAU.
He referenced instances ten to fifteen years in the past when students acted outrageously. Now, however, according to Beriau, students know better.
"They know they can always come to us with problems," he said. "But, at the end of the day, students also know that we are here to do our job: to discipline, and go as far as suspending or arresting a student if they cross the line. Yes, we mediate, but at the end of the day, we do what we need to do to keep the school safe."
Beriau said he feels MAU students take great pride in their school, as well they should.
"Our school is the safest and most well- organized that it's ever been," said Beriau. "We want to make sure it stays that way."
Thanks to this pack of dedicated professionals, Charles Johnson, a member of the Vermont Agency of Education's Safe Schools Team, recently dubbed MAU one of the top two schools in Vermont with the best approach to student management and safety.
Beriau said of his team and their collective efforts, "We love what we do, we take great pride in our work," he smiled. "It's not your typical clock-in, clock-out kind of job. We're really making a difference."
Parents of MAU students or students of MAU with questions regarding the MAU Security Management Team are encouraged to contact Beriau at 802-447-7511, extension 254.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @bethconkey.