From College Athlete to Top SRO: Jamal Currica’s Personal Best

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Written By: J. Lasswell
February 13, 2024

“I coach cross country, so I'm at all the practices, but the thing that the students really like about me coaching cross country is I do all the workouts with them; they love to see a police officer in plain clothes, sweating with them—they get to see the humanity of who I am.”

Jamal Currica is upping the standards of what it means to be a School Resource Officer (SRO). From coaching cross country, to being the district’s first school resource officer, Currica is “all-in” on Hudson Community School District in Hudson, IA. Currica has found that maintaining an active, friendly presence and initiating several safety-oriented programs has effectively encouraged his student body to engage in their safety concerns.

While Jamal always knew he wanted a career that intersects with his passion for human connection, his first love was athletics. As an athlete at Damascus High School in Damascus, MD, Currica excelled in running events, high jump and on the football field. “I had big dreams. I did think about the Olympics–you kind of have to when you're an athlete; you have to think that way to get better and be successful.” Currica attended Iowa State, landing a spot on their Track and Field team, quickly becoming a “multi-event specialist” and decathlon athlete. After deciding that competing in the Olympics wasn’t his chosen path, he set his sights on a career that would enable his love for people.

Jamal Currica as a collegiate athelete
Credit to: Iowa State University Track & Field

“I wasn't too sure what I wanted to do yet. But the one thing I knew was: I really like being around people…I like to just make myself available to people, and I felt like, ‘that's the kind of person that needs to be in law enforcement.’”

Currica began his journey in law enforcement working as a counselor at Woodward Academy, an alternative school for at-risk high-schoolers, where in six-to-twelve month programs, he was able to refine his abilities as a role model. After his time at Woodward, he served as an correctional officer in an Arizona state prison. “I didn't want to spend the rest of my career working in a prison because I felt like my personality lent to helping people. I'm not exactly able to build relationships with inmates. And that's what I was lacking in that career.”

This realization brought Currica to Hudson High, a part of the Hudson Community School System in Iowa. His arrival coincided with the school system opening the position for a school resource officer, marking Currica as the community's inaugural SRO. With Hudson being a growing community, Currica immediately noticed a need for a role model like himself. Being in the position to “lay the foundation” for the community’s SRO program, Currica took on the role of coaching the school’s cross-country team, along with spearheading several safety and wellness initiatives at his school.

“I think sometimes having a male role model to talk to about things that maybe the students don't feel comfortable talking about with a teacher–because they're too busy…I definitely think there's a need for the position to build those relationships with, and the students who don't have dads in the home–they look to me as their male role model.”

Currica’s kindness and attentiveness to each individual student made an immediate impact, and his ability to seek out at-risk students started a trend in the lunchroom cafeteria. “That's where I build most of my relationships: in the cafeteria. People typically get to know each other well when they go out to eat. It's just a good time to relax and talk…I kind of seek students who need it.” Currica explains that the attention he gives students differs depending on the student’s social affluency. “The basketball players–I go to their games, all of their games. Some of them, I coach in track.” Currica’s example set a trend, where mixing-up social groups at lunch tables is becoming the norm. “I'm finding a way to reach everybody in a different way. Whether it's coaching, spending time with them at lunch, going to their classrooms, doing classroom activities with them, I find a way to reach everybody.”

Currica finds that adopting such an engaged approach not only provides his students with an enhanced sense of security, but also enables him to serve as an immediate resource and positive example. “I coach cross country, so I'm at all the practices, but the thing that the students really like about me coaching cross country is I do all the workouts with them; they love to see a police officer in plain clothes, sweating with them—they get to see the humanity of who I am.”

Currica teaches a safe driving program, Seatbelts Are For Everyone (S.A.F.E), in another effort to get the student body to acknowledge and take accountability for their safety. This student-run program surveys the student body at the beginning of the year to gather information on seatbelt use, awarding a monthly prize in recognition to students who consistently exhibit safe driving practices. Currica prioritizes announcing these awards and communicating these successes to the school community, instilling in the students that their safety efforts will be recognized and rewarded. These initiatives include a “student of the month” column, written by Currica, and submitted faithfully every month to the Hudson Herald, where a student who exhibits model behavior gets recognized at school and in the larger community.

Jamal Currica with SAFE
Currica and Seatbelts Are For Everyone (S.A.F.E.)

“So they get a challenge coin, they get a certificate, and the certificate is signed by me and the principal, we take a photo, I do a little write up on them and it goes on our social media page. It's been really great for motivating the students.” Currica has altered the program to highlight two students per month, in an effort to diversify their pool of awardees. While ensuring that all students have a chance to win this award, Currica encourages highlighting students that don’t stand out academically or in extracurriculars—“they need that encouragement; it will mean the world to them.”

Fortunately for his already–seemingly impossible–workload, Currica finds that his students are well-behaved. “There's times where I have to enforce things. Every school has a vaping problem—I think ours is minor.” Currica attributes the successes he’s had in managing a positive behavioral atmosphere to his ability to constantly be present in the hallways and public areas, engaging with the student body, rather than being alone in an office. “I try to be in the hallway so I can be visible…that forces me to  be out in the community, be out in the school, and be seen by everybody and be more proactive.”

Jamal Currica with a class
Currica with a Hudson Elementary School class

Being a full time police officer and SRO simultaneously, Currica notes the need for an officer to be able to interact with “people on the street” and his student body in different ways. “When I'm out on the street, it's most likely that I don't know that person…. I know the students and that's where the relationship part comes into play.” Currica explains that being an officer in the school gives him more resources to remedy conflict. “I'm going to have a better chance of de-escalating that situation and getting help from other staff members…I can figure out which staff member I can get, whether it's the principal, special ed teacher, counselor; there's different options in the school…out on the street, it's a little more dangerous.” Currica explains that the level of discretion he can use out in the public is hindered by the dynamic nature of policing outside of school, where the environment is more precarious. “It’s very different,” he remarks.

In terms of what goals he hopes to achieve at Hudson Community School District, Currica modestly aspires to cultivate existing relationships, rather than pursuing personal gains or flashy titles. “I think a lot of what I've started as far as the programs and the relationships, I want to continue to build on that. Then the coaching—that's a huge part of what I do. I also coach girls and boys track, and I hope to become a head coach one day. I want to help kids win state titles like I did myself. I’d like to win a team state title as a coach–a head coach, someday–and just continue doing the things I'm doing at the school.”

Currica’s final message is one of great relief to the millions of Americans who are concerned about the safety of their school-aged kids. While the progress in next-gen security tech, legislation with wide implications, and current grant funding as reported in the news is encouraging, individuals like Currica provide an immediate antidote to the fear that there might not be someone at your child's school who genuinely cares about their welfare. Currica has demonstrated through his unwavering commitment that he not only truly cares for his community, but is also willing to put everything on the line for their well-being.

Historically, assessing school safety from a 30,000 ft view has been a practice in criticism, but after I had this opportunity to interview Currica, I’m convinced that the positivity deriving from his unique perspective as a role model is of much greater merit.

Jamal Currica doing pottery
Currica getting his hands dirty!