The School Safety Patrol program is meant to teach elementary school students safe street crossing on their way to and from school. But parents of fifth graders who are lucky enough to have San Diego Police officer David Valdez as their leader say it’s much more than that.
The parents say it’s about learning from a great mentor, someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help mold their children into future leaders.
“One thing I’ve come to learn about these students is, they thrive on learning. And they do a tremendous job about being leaders in their community," Officer Valdez said.
Valdez leads the Safety Patrol at several elementary schools in San Diego County as part of a partnership between the San Diego Police Department and schools.
But when schools closed down because of the pandemic, Officer Valdez didn’t want to lose touch with his students.
“For me, it was very important for me to find a way to reach out to the students on a regular basis and still challenge them,” Valdez said.
What was once weekly visits at schools -- where children would do pushups, stand in formation and learn the skills to offer safe passage -- turned into weekly zoom meetings. Officer Valdez found new ways to challenge the children physically and mentally, preparing them for the time when schools do return and when students will once again need safe passage.
Parents say the students have responded and look forward to their weekly meetings. They even found a way to wish Officer Valdez a happy birthday with a caravan of cars offering honks, signs and cheers for their mentor.
“It was a sign that I’m doing the right job,” said Officer Valdez who smiles when he thinks of the impact he’s had on the lives of his students. “I’m connecting with them in a friendly, positive way. That’s extremely important to me.”
And officer Valdez says he wants to make sure he keeps that connection going while children struggle with the difficulties that come with staying at home because they’ll soon be back and he’ll need their help.
“I just want to remind my students to continue to be positive, be happy, healthy and safe and I am going to look for all of you as we come back to school in the fall once it’s safe to do so, he said. “We are going to need to prepare that next generation of leaders so I’m going to be looking for your help.”