BRIGHTON PARK — After police officers and students helped to make this back-to-school season a safe one at Shields Elementary School, the two groups got together to celebrate with a dodgeball tournament.
Officers on Safe Passage patrols near Shields Elementary, at 2611 W. 48th St., and other South Side schools joined with seventh-graders from the school Friday for an afternoon of dodgeball and friendly interaction. Students put on the officers' gear and asked questions about the job, with officers taking the time to get to the know the school community and have a positive interaction.
"I love the officers interacting with the kids. It's great," said Francis Valadez, commander for the department's Area Central, which coordinates after-school patrols for the area. "They're wearing our vests, having fun. We're showing that we like having fun, too. This is what it's all about."
Officers enjoyed the opportunity to play Brighton Park middle schoolers in dodgeball Friday at Shields Elementary. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
Shields Principal Debra Fritz-Fanning said she reached out to the officers who were patrolling the Safe Passage routes near her school to thank them for keeping students safe. She said that students and parents were confused by the increased police presence early in the year, but now both students and parents enjoy having them around and are thankful for their efforts.
The first day of school, kids were asking us, 'What's going on?' I told them they're here to support us, Fritz-Fanning said. "They've become a part of our community."
Officers routinely patrol the routes during the first few weeks of school. Now that those patrols are ending, staff at the school wanted to do something nice for the officers, Fritz-Fanning said.
"The teachers and staff wanted to do something nice to thank them and also to form a good relationship with the kids in the community," she said.
Two students, center and right, wear officers' vests as they stretch before a dodgeball game with police Friday. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
A good relationship appears to have been forged. Students were wide-eyed and eager to try on officers' gear, including hats, vests and sunglasses. And the officers were clearly excited, too.
"It feels nice," Edwin Rubio, a seventh-grader at Shields, said about the officers visiting his gym class. Rubio was proudly wearing an officer's vest and hat. "I think it's awesome they help us out. I might be a cop when I grow up."