Students at Ayers Elementary School in Martins Ferry spent the last few mornings with law enforcement officers, building positive relationships through shared stories. Students had the chance to meet local first responders through the new reading program Books with Badges. The program takes responders to area elementary schools to read books to students in an effort to build trust and positive relationships between students and emergency personnel. Wednesday’s program saw nearly a dozen first responders visit the school to read to students, including representatives from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Martins Ferry and Bridgeport police departments, the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department and the Martins Ferry Volunteer Fire Department. Responders selected the books they would read to the children before splitting up to head to several different classrooms to read to second- and third-graders. Once inside the classrooms, the officers and firefighters handed out stickers and took turns reading to the attentive pupils, who were happy to have the chance to meet the men and women in uniform and to get to know the responders. The Books with Badges program is the brainchild of Trooper Chase Watts of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Development of the program has been in the works for about a year. Watts started the initiative to build trust between students and emergency personnel, and to give back to the community. “The biggest thing is that I wanted to have a program where younger kids could be influenced in a positive way, and with everything that’s going on these days in the country I thought this was a great way to make a change,” said Watts. “I just encourage schools to try to incorporate this program into their districts in some way, because every community can benefit from it somehow.” Watts, a Martins Ferry graduate, chose Ayers Elementary to be the first school to experience the program and said it has met with great success so far. Watts plans on expanding the program to other local elementary schools in the coming weeks. He hopes the reading program will continue to grow and expand its reach. For more information on the Books with Badges program, visit bookswithbadges.org or look up the program on Facebook.