HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The school resource officer at Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School is on a mission to keep his community safe and make sure students don’t go down the wrong path.
“I think the best way I can serve my community is by helping the youth,” Patel High School SRO Andre Jennings said, “they are our future.”
Jennings and students held the second annual Patel High School Safety Summit on Thursday night.
“He hopes to create a sense of security because of all the incidents happening at other schools,” Patel High School Senior Ava Tram said.
Not only does Jennings work to keep the charter school campus safe, but he also said he is committed to steering students in the right direction.
“They don’t know if they want to be on the streets,” Jennings said. “They don’t know if they want to be good kids. My goal is to try with the kids that are straddling the fence to push them to the right side.”
This mission is even more personal for Jennings after his family felt the pain of gun violence.
“I miss her smile,” Jennings said, “that smile brightened up everybody’s days including mine.”
Jennings’s 21-year-old cousin Savannah Mathis had her life cut short after gunshots sprayed her car near Tampa’s Julian B. Lane Park in December 2021.
“Which it did light a fire under me to really push so that way another kid like her, this doesn’t happen to and also the kid that did the shooting, he doesn’t result to that side of violence,” Jennings explained.
The lights of local law enforcement vehicles lit up the front of Patel High School at the second safety summit.
Inside the school, officers from multiple agencies answer students’ questions about mental health, race relations and bridging the gap between police and the community they serve.
“This type of event is so vital so that the students understand the bonding between the officers, the officers’ roles, and responsibilities,” said Dr. Kiran Patel, the philanthropist who founded Patel High School four years ago.
“So that when the officers do respond to a call, these kids do feel more comfortable speaking up to them or letting them know if there are guns on their campus or if they’re seeing stuff in their neighborhood or stuff that’s happening at their house,” Jennings said.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department and the Plant City Police Department were some of the agencies at the safety summit.
Students also had the chance to connect with mental health specialists and learn about available resources.