The lunchroom broke into a seated ovation Friday, as the children at G.D. Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School clapped, cheered and banged on their tables in honor of their special guests.
The recipients of the warm welcome were police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, visiting the school as the culmination of Florida’s statewide First Responder Appreciation Week.
Once the applause died down, the officers squeezed in at the lunch tables and took bites of their pizza or boom-boom chicken amidst a barrage of questions from curious children, thrilled to have the uniformed visitors sitting at their table.
“We’re having pizza and apple sauce, everything I remember from my elementary school days, so a lot hasn’t changed, but we’re having a blast,” said Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan.
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We're having pizza and apple sauce, everything I remember from my elementary school days, so a lot hasn't changed, but we're having a blast.
- Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan
Bradenton Patrol Officer Kenny Simunovic sat at a table, swarmed by children asking him questions. The 7-year-olds wanted to know how many people he had arrested, what the inside of a jail looks like and what they should do if someone steals from them.
Zorriah Jenkins, 7, and A’myr Walker, 6, were both enthralled by the visiting officers, and both said they wanted to be police officers when they grew up.
Zorriah said she wants to drive around and chase bad people. A’myr liked the sound of that as well, but he also wanted to go into law enforcement because of his previous encounters with police.
“There was a shooting behind our house and someone died,” A’myr said. “The police tried to figure out who did it. I was definitely scared.”
A’myr said the police helped him and made him feel safe.
Simunovic said the necessity for events like this has grown as interactions between the police and the public have become more tenuous. Negative attitudes toward officers have trickled down to elementary-aged children, he said. Simunovic was proven true a few minutes later when a 10-year-old boy yelled, “Police suck.”
Eventually, the boy, an officer and a teacher were in the corner, the boy in tears and the officer talking to him about the need for respect for police.
“You do see it a lot, but at this age you educate them more,” Simunovic said. “You try to be that positive influence in their life.”