The Iringallur Government Higher Secondary School is the highest point at Palazhi in Olavanna panchayat here. Situated at the very top of a steep climb, it resembles an angry red rash amidst the canopy of coconut groves beneath.

Under the beating sun, 63 khaki-clad children do a brisk parade on the gravelly school ground. Behind them, the half-constructed narrow edifice of their school stands witness as the two platoons of the Student Police Cadets (SPC) march, raising clouds of dust under their stomping boots.

Mohammed Sarfan of Class 8 ignores the fact that his classmates tower over him during parade. “As long as we are in uniform, I am the best around,” he said. For these students of Classes 8 and 9, the cadet project has been a giver of confidence and a path to leadership.

“When I joined it, I was timid. I was scared to even walk up the hill to school. Being a cadet has given me the ability to find the courage within me and a yearning to achieve in life,” Ananjaya M., a Class 8 student, said.

Though the spirits of the cadets have soared over the past four years owing to the SPC project, the school’s infrastructure and peer attitude have hardly evolved.

“The school has been in existence for the past 100 years. It is only now that the administration is thinking of giving us a proper school ground. We have no sports equipment for the children. For nutrition, children are given a ration limit of Rs.20 a week. We can hardly afford to give nutritious food to our students, most of whom hail from poor families, with this weekly pittance,” K.U. Babu, physical instructor at the school and one of the pioneers of the Student Cadet Project, said.

Mr. Babu was recently felicitated by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala for his stellar role in the formation of the SPC project and coordination of the first student police cadet force in the run-up to the 50th State School Arts Festival in 2010.

“In 2010, the State school arts festival was in Kozhikode. The then City Police Commissioner S. Sreejith called a crisis meeting in which I had participated. There were hardly enough police officers for crowd control. Of the 1,800 available force, half would go for Sabarimala duty. There were 18 venues, over 10,000 participants, and lakhs would pour in. It was there that we decided to tap into the student population and train them in crowd control for the festival,” Mr. Babu said.

The experiment would go on to be a success and be repeated in the following school arts festivals. The SPC project has over 25,000 students in 325 schools, across the State, under its wings.

Yet, P. Vijayan, DIG (Intelligence) and State Nodal Officer for the SPC project in the State, says many of these schools face the same infrastructural and attitudinal problem as Iringallur.

“There are two ways of implementing an idea. One, build the infrastructure first and then start the project. Two, start the project and then build the infrastructure as it goes. The SPC chose the latter and, consequently, has had it tough in its initial years. Many of the schools still continue to be under-prepared as far as space and infrastructure for SPC is concerned,” Mr. Vijayan said.

At this juncture, the project has opted for an attitudinal change. It has decided to pick and choose schools. “We have numerous applications pending for schools willing to start SPC units. For some, getting grace marks is the only impetus. But we are going to limit permission. We will give preference to only those institutions which can ensure support for this social initiative from the school authorities and local MLAs,” Mr. Vijayan said.

Besides, proposals to provide maximum facilities for SPC units in schools, a State directorate for the project, an SPC training academy, have also been mooted at the State level, he said.

“It is undeniable. The presence of these students has changed the entire atmosphere of the school,” Iringallur school’s head mistress M. Sushmadevi says with some pride.