Police Officer Jordan Plitt squeezed into a red chair designed for a kindergartner, extending his legs beneath a table just two to three feet high in Camden's Bonsall Elementary School.

Next to him, in a same-size chair, was a smiling kindergartner with a ponytail. She peered at Page 30 of the children's book Snow, trying to copy a picture of a young boy skiing down a hill with a dog.

"I don't know how to make a dog," Jeanette Ramos told Plitt, 24, who has been on the force for a year.

So Plitt grabbed a brown crayon and sketched one for her. But he made a mistake.

"You forgot the tail," she told him.

"Oh, thank you," Plitt said. "What would I do without a good artist like you?"

That exchange Wednesday was part of a reading program that pairs Camden County officers and community members with kindergarten pupils in the city. Around 30 students are involved, with two going to each officer in turn. The officers and the students are to meet weekly until the end of the school year.

Camden Mayor Dana Redd and the county Police Department launched the program with the help of BookMates, a nonprofit that has paired students in Camden with adult reading partners for nearly 15 years. This is the first time officers are involved, organizers said.

The goal is simple: Connect officers with children in a classroom instead of later on in the streets, so they will remember a positive first interaction.

"It's almost like [how] you remember your first crush," Sgt. Pete Rogers said. "It's the same, because it burns into your psyche."

The elementary school where they gathered is in one of Camden's most dangerous neighborhoods, Whitman Park, often plagued by drug gangs and shootings. Visible from the school windows - enveloped in black fence to prevent break-ins - are abandoned rowhouses where plywood blocks doors and windows.

Inside the school, where holiday decorations dot the hallways, the environment is different.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, in a suit and blue tie with red dots, read from Green Eggs and Ham.

Seven students sat in front of him, listening intently.

When he finished the book, Redd posed a question to the children:

"So, do you still like green eggs and ham now?"

"Yeah," most said.

"Not me," one boy interjected, drawing laughs.

At a nearby table, Plitt let his reading buddy try on his hat. Later, he handed her a red crayon to draw a pair of shoes pictured in her book.

"I was nervous because I didn't know how they'd respond at first," Plitt said.

But as the student next to him smiled, he knew the answer.

"It's a good change of pace," he said. "It's a great change of pace."

mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc