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Behind the Badge: Sheriff’s deputy creates ‘device free’ experience for middle schoolers

ARCADIA, Ind. -- There’s a room that stands out more than the others at Hamilton Heights Middle School.

The “Dawg Pound” as it’s called sits in the back of the cafeteria, in what used to be an old storage room. The walls are a shade of burnt orange, and a school mascot is painted on one of them. There’s a surplus of board games, a popcorn machine, a space with two Xbox consoles and another with a 70-inch flat screen TV. It’s a “no phone, no device, no Wi-Fi” zone and it’s the pet project of school resource officer Jonathan Tindal.

“I wanted to find ways to interact with these kids and give them something back and let them know they’re important to me. This is just how it morphed together,” Tindal said.

According to Tindal, the idea for the Dawg Pound came from his frustration over kids seemingly being more interested in looking at their phones or devices, rather than engage with each other.

“I literally see them after school waiting for practice to start talking to each other through a text message, and they’re sitting right next to each other, and that disturbs me,” Tindal said.

Tindal set about raising funds for the Dawg Pound by hosting school dances and athletic events. He also credits a half dozen area businesses for providing him with materials and electronics at a discounted rate.

“Everybody was quick to help and wanted to help, and did a lot of great things to make it happen,” he said.

The Dawg Pound officially opened at the begging of the school year. So far, Tindal says the students have responded better than he ever expected. While in the Dawg Pound, Tindal says students are more engaged with each other, he adds the factions or “cliques” that middle school kids often separate into also seem to disappear.

Hamilton Heights Middle School’s principal, Bret Bailey, says because students can only gain access to the Dawg Pound as the result of a reward, it’s also having an effect on the kids’ academics.

“A lot of time when kids are struggling academically we think we have to do remediation or add extra English or math classes, when actually what’s missing is that social, emotional, relational piece,” Bailey said.

The Dawg Pound has had so much success that Deputy Tindal has been nominated for a National Association of School Resource Officers Exceptional Service award. Tindal says it never was his goal to gain attention, but knowing that people have responded with positivity makes him feel good.