Cruising the campus

Dan Trevithick has helped keep students safe for nearly two decades

Illustration By Steve Ferchaud

Eighteen years ago, Dan Trevithick was at student at Chico State University, working on a master’s degree in history, when he ran out of money. On a bulletin board at the Student Employment Office he saw an ad for yard personnel at Chico High School.

“At the time I thought it was exactly the wrong job for me,” he says. Working with students “was exactly the reason I didn’t get a teaching credential.” But the job was the best-paying one listed, so he applied for it.

He’s been a campus supervisor at Chico High ever since. To his surprise, “it just turned out to be a really good fit for me. I found that I really liked being around high-school-aged students.”

When we think of high schools, we usually think of teachers, administrators and students. But many other people are just as essential to a school’s operation, including security personnel. Trevithick is one of four campus supervisors at Chico High working under Assistant Principal Reg Govan. They are charged with seeing that students are safe on campus and doing nothing that might harm themselves or others.

Today, after Columbine and other notorious incidents of campus violence, campus supervisor is a complex job that requires the skills and sensitivity of a social worker, the toughness of a police officer and the hyper-awareness of a psychic. In Trevithick’s case, it’s complicated by Chico High’s status as an open campus near the center of town that sees an unusual number of non-students passing through.

Trevithick, a trim, tanned man with short gray hair and beard, uses a bicycle to do his job. “Dan the Bike Man,” as the kids call him, cruises the campus and nearby neighborhoods, radio on belt, looking for potential problems so he can head them off. He says he’s developed a sixth sense that tells him when something’s going on.

“Just the way kids are walking around on campus, or by the decibel level of their voices, you can tell that something’s up,” he explains.

Most cases are minor and most kids little or no trouble, he says. A typical incident might be a 15-year-old who gets in with some older kids at lunch hour, slams back a half-pint of peppermint schnapps, and heaves in his fifth-period class. Or one caught in an alley with his buddy and a pipe full of dope.

“Why someone would want to go to class high is beyond me,” he says, “but some do.”

He tries to go easy when he busts a student. “It’s the kids who’ve never done anything before who get the most upset. It almost hurts you to take them into the office.” He does his best to assure them that it’s not the end of the world and that one day they’ll look back on it and laugh.

He worries about alcohol more than marijuana, because alcohol too often leads to traffic accidents, and “that’s how we lose kids,” he says, slowly shaking his head.

There are relatively few rules governing student behavior at Chico’s high schools apart from those of society in general. Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs are of course forbidden on campus, and there’s a dress code that says outer garments must cover undergarments and if a student isn’t wearing undergarments the outer garments must cover where the undergarments would be.

Shirts advertising tobacco, alcohol and drugs also are prohibited, including those advertising the products of Chico’s pride and joy, the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Such garb is so ubiquitous and so much a part of local culture that prohibiting it has been difficult, but most kids comply. Still, Trevithick says, “almost every day somebody goes into the office behind that one.”

Weapons also are prohibited, and the students are highly cooperative, he says. “We rarely have to deal even with something as small as a keychain pocket knife.”

Hell in a helmet “Dan the Bike Man,” as the kids call him, cruises the halls at Chico High, always on the alert for hooky-players, nooky-makers and doobie-tokers.

Photo By Tom Angel

The only serious incident he remembers occurred when an out-of-town gang member strolled through campus, flashing the pistol he had tucked into his belt. He was spotted immediately by students and staff members. Dan Kelly, the Chico police officer who serves as the school resource officer, waited until he walked off campus and then “swooped down and arrested him,” Trevithick says.

Gang activity is a concern, and all of the campus supervisors “really have our antennae up on gang issues. We don’t kid ourselves about gangs at our school.” When they identify a student as a gang member, they immediately contact his family members and let them know.

On the other hand, he hastens to assure, today’s “gangs are not all that different than the cliques of hard guys of generations past. They’re not engaged in a lot of criminal activity other than fights.”

In fact, fights are about the worst things that happen on campus. “That’s not one of my favorite things, breaking up fights,” he says. “I’m getting too old for that.”

Girls are worse than boys in fights, he says. “Boys bellow and posture and kick sand, but once an adult shows up they’ll let go of it. Once girls are at the point of fighting, they no longer know what’s going on. It gets really nasty.” After some fights he’s found whole clumps of hair left on the ground, evidence of the passion of the conflict.

The other incident he really doesn’t like coming upon is a sex act in progress. Usually it’s going on in a car in the parking lot, but at least twice he’s surprised students going at it in a nearby alleyway. “It’s horrible. Everybody’s embarrassed. But you can’t not do anything about it. And when Mom and Dad come down to the office, there are lots of tears and anger.”

Still and all, these are relatively small, run-of-the-mill problems. The students, Trevithick says, are rarely the problem. “I don’t worry about them too much,” he says, “but I really sweat the day somebody comes onto our campus with a crazed agenda.”

Fortunately, he and the other campus supervisors have the Chico Police Department behind them, in the form of the school resource officers assigned to each campus. Each officer is on campus for three to six hours three days a week, and they’re “very good about responding quickly if needed,” Trevithick points out. Beyond that, they are involved in the school in other ways, showing up at dances, games and other activities.

“It’s been a very good program and given me a different attitude toward police officers,” Trevithick says. “They’re really good people and really competent professionals.” He’s learned a lot from them, he adds.

The cops are a constant reminder that the campus supervisors must be prepared for anything at any time. Complacency is their worst enemy. The campus has a sophisticated plan for emergencies that, ironically, was completed—after two years of preparation—just before the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado. “We were a little bit ahead of the curve on that,” Trevithick says proudly.

“We have to be prepared for the worst at all times,” he explains. “The potential is really there, especially at Chico High. Every day I work there reminds me how exposed that campus is.”

The thing is, he cares deeply about the kids he supervises. “I really enjoy their company,” he explains. “It’s a fascinating stage of life. They have such questing young minds.”

He prefers interacting with them outside the classroom. Not too long ago, at the age of 50, he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, an affliction he’d had all his life without knowing it. It explains his impatience with desk jobs and his preference for outdoor, physical activity. And it’s given him the ability to relate to kids with the disorder better.

Trevithick’s wife, Cheryl Leeth, is a supervisor with Butte County Children’s Services, so the two of them have much to talk about after work in the evenings. He’s also stepfather to her two grown daughters and grandfather of a 12-year-old.

After 18 years, Dan Trevithick’s love for Chico High and its students is as great as ever. He admires his colleagues and enjoys working with such a diverse group of young people. He’s forever amazed to see how members of various groups, from skateboarders and preppies to farm kids and activists, form alliances and friendships with each other, showing respect and even affection. And he anticipates getting to know many of them.

Any day now, he says, a freshman is going to show up and turn out to be the child of one of his first students. "Now that’s a scary thought," he says.