The third episode in the film series “The Mind Inside” continues to explore the mission of providing services for public school students in Nebraska.
Filmed before the pandemic, the one-hour documentary follows two North Platte school leaders, Brandy Buscher and Officer Jeremiah Johnson, who act as the first line of defense for students in crisis.
“I was kind of skeptical about it a little bit,” Johnson said. “Not understanding the intentions, not understanding the whole series that they were doing, for me it was a little nerve-wracking.”
The hardest part for him, Johnson said, was once the filming was done, how his and Buscher’s work would be portrayed.
“I know our community and our school, we have a story to tell,” Johnson said. “This is a film crew that’s not from here and I wasn’t too sure how they were going to tell our story.
“I think they told our story very well.”
He said the subject matter in the film may be difficult to see.
“It’s hard to bring some of this to the community, but this is in our community,” Johnson said. “We need to talk about it, we need to help.”
Johnson came on board as school resource officer six years ago and Buscher has been employed by the NPPS District for 14 years.
“I worked for the Omaha Police Department,” Buscher said. “I was a liaison for them and the county attorney’s office, working primarily in domestic violence.”
Buscher is originally from Sutherland. She and her husband decided to move back to the area to raise their family.
“I have a criminal justice degree,” Buscher said about her entry into the NPPS District. “I had not worked in education, I’m not a teacher, I don’t have a teaching degree.”
An ad in the Telegraph indicated the district was looking for a dean of students at Adams Middle School.
“(The ad said) they would accept applications if you had a criminal justice degree, which I thought was crazy and strange.” Buscher said. “I applied for it and what I found out at the interview is they really just wanted someone to work with kids and try to help them stay on track.”
She said the job evolved into a community liaison position. Shortly afterwards, the district eliminated the truancy officer position and added those responsibilities to Buscher’s job description.
“That’s when I really started with what my role is now,” Buscher said. “That position really changed my perspective on what we were dealing with and opened my eyes to what’s going on inside our homes with our kids.”
The film takes the viewer into real time and actual interactions Buscher and Johnson have with students who come from difficult home situations. It also gives a glimpse into the identity of the school resource officer and his role.
“I think that there’s the perception with the general public of what SROs do and what they do in the schools,” Johnson said. “I would assume that a lot of those perceptions are that (SROs) are policing the hallways, or they’re policing the parking lot.”
He said that is far from the reality of what he does on a daily basis.
“I think this film does show the collaborative effort amongst two agencies, a school and a police agency in collaboration with each other and working on communication and understanding,” Johnson said.
Buscher said there are three main points in the film she believes can help other communities improve their collaborations.
“No. 1, it can bring forth systemic change to some of our systems that are just not quite working right now,” Buscher said. “I think you see that in the film that we’re struggling and feel like we’re doing a lot that’s not our responsibility.”
She said the film brings to light what all the schools are doing and perhaps to flaws in systems that are meant to be serving kids and aren’t always getting that right.
“No. 2, I hope that if another school watches it and says, yeah, we have kids like this too,” Buscher said, “and maybe we should start a food pantry. Why aren’t we doing some of these things.”
Buscher said superintendents from other communities have reached out with questions on how to get started.
“No. 3, The model of how to use a resource officer in a school is shown tremendously (in the film),” Buscher said. “As you see, ‘J’ is not going in arresting kids or putting kids in handcuffs or carrying them out of a building.
“He’s serving kids, he’s training staff, he’s working collaboratively with families.”
Johnson said he and Buscher often see the small victories that happen with their work.
“As far as what drives me is oftentimes I’m seeing the results of us getting involved in people’s lives,” Johnson said. “We see that whether it be within their schoolwork or their behavior at school. You can really see it on the kids’ faces too. You can tell when they’re at ease.”
Sometimes the impact is a lot about feelings, Johnson said, and that social-emotional support, which isn’t always seen at the surface.
“When we work with these kids day in and day out, we see that success,” Johnson said.