CAMDEN, NJ— When Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy senior Asia Rabb-Peace gets to school in the morning, security officer Felix Bowman acts like he can’t see her. He’ll only acknowledge her after she calls his name, which he’ll then follow-up with picking up her dropped smile off of the floor and handing it back to her. It’s a game they’ve played every day for the past seven years, Rabb-Peace said.
“He’s my favorite person. I look forward to seeing him every day when I walk in,” said the senior.
Bowman and Rabb-Peace’s relationship is not uncommon in the Camden City School District, where many security officers often go above and beyond their security duties to also serve as positive role models for the students they work to protect.
Its those types of relationships which inspired members of the Camden Education Association [CEA] to push for the school district’s security officers to receive more recognition this year. Their effort led to Security Officer Appreciation Week — a week of celebrations that included officer shout outs on the school district’s social media pages and appreciation events.
“Our security officers go over and beyond the call of duty, not just for student safety, but many of them are parent figures to the children,” said Lisa Hardwick, administrative assistant for the CEA.
To culminate Security Officer Appreciation Week, CCSD officials, members of the Camden County Police Department and the Camden Education Association surprised Bowman — the school district’s longest tenured security officer with 38 years of service — on Friday with a bag full goodies and a certificate honoring his service to Camden students.
“I had no idea,” Bowman said. “It's a tremendous feeling … I can’t even describe it right now.”
“Our security officers really are like members of the extended family for our students,” Acting CCSD Superintendent Katrina McCombs said. “Yes we call on them to help ensure that our facilities are safe and our students are safe. But more importantly, they are also building relationships proactively with our students, so that if a student is experiencing difficulty … maybe they are able to help de-escalate situations before they get out of hand.”
A lifelong Camden resident, Bowman began his career as a security officer at Sharp Elementary School. He was there for six years before transferring over to Morgan Village Middle School, we has been ever since.
Bowman, who hands snacks to students every day, said his favorite part of the job is seeing the students succeed and making them feel safe when they come to school.
“Whatever problems they may have on the outside, once they come in here, we make them feel good about themselves, welcomed and forget about the troubling things they may have going on on the outside.”
CCSD security officers are not just important to the students, staff and parents, but they also are important figures to the Camden County Police Department [CCPD], working with them to let them know of any critical information they might hear from the school populations.
“We want to know before something happens, and they play a huge role in that,” CCPD Capt. Gabriel Camacho said, adding the department meets monthly with the CCSD school security team.
Once she graduates, Rabb-Peace said that she will miss seeing Bowman every day and plans to come back to visit him. She’ll have to make sure to come back within four years of graduating to make sure she catches him patrolling the halls CAMVA, however.
“My plan was to do two more [years] and then maybe retire,” Bowman said on Friday. “But I’m going to try and squeeze out at least four more years, because I really enjoy working with young people.
“I think as long as I can be a positive for them, and make a difference in just the smallest way, is very gratifying for me.”