The public service and tragic death of Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace were remembered in gatherings that students in Ceres and Turlock held Thursday to show their appreciation for local law enforcement personnel.
At Mae Hensley Junior High in Ceres, eighth-graders welcomed Ceres police to a Back the Blue Brunch, at which officers heard students’ speeches of thanks, watched a video tribute to law enforcement, and sat and talked over a meal of breakfast burritos.
Joining the Ceres officers was Modesto police Detective Dave Wallace, brother of Dennis Wallace. Among the kids sitting with Wallace was Gabriela Soto, who takes a journalism class. She asked the detective how he chose a career in law enforcement, and he replied that it was to help the community and to follow in the footsteps of his father, Dennis Taylor Wallace, who was a California Highway Patrol officer.
The brunch was connected to students’ current unit of study, themed “Social Justice and Equality,” which centers on the essential question: “How can citizens of society contribute to change?”
English and language arts teacher Joleen Hammell said students have been studying the protests and arguments on both sides surrounding the Blue Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter movements.
I think it’s great. It’s really cool these kids want to appreciate the service these officers provide. It’s great having interaction, too, on this positive level.
Alex Warner, Ceres Police Department’s crime analyst
Soto said she thinks officers are being viewed in a bad light because of the actions of a few.
“I feel they do so much work for us and risk their lives for us, and basically they’re criticized as a threat,” she said.
A display in the teachers lounge where the brunch was held featured photos of students and their thoughts on law enforcement.
“Police officers sacrifice their lives to keep the evil away from us,” read Heriberto Castillo Gallegos’ statement, “and if it wasn’t for them, who knows how our city or country would even be?”
On the quad following the brunch, Lt. Chris Perry spoke with a couple of girls.
“It’s important for people to know that most of us who got into this did so because we care,” he said. “It’s good to know you have that figured out,” more than some adults in the community, he added.
Less than an hour after the Ceres students had officers on campus, students in the life management course at Pitman High School in Turlock also did. Moved by the shooting of Wallace on Nov. 13 at the Fox Grove fishing access near Hughson, they welcomed two of his colleagues and their own school resource police officer into their classroom.
All officers will have a special place in my heart for putting their life on the line to protect mine and my family’s.
Diana Revuelta, Pitman High student
The kids of Tanya White’s class read letters of appreciation – and condolences regarding Wallace’s death – to Turlock police Officer Mark Alberti, Sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Bejaran and Deputy Nate Crain, and asked them questions including how they chose their careers and what they like most about their jobs. They also sent them back to their departments with boxes of cookies for their colleagues.
Student Diana Revuelta, a daughter of immigrants, said in her letter that before her parents were granted residency, she used to fear she would come home from school one day to find no one there.
“I can only compare my fear to those officers and their families hold every day as their father or spouse goes out into the field … not knowing what that day may hold for them,” she read to the officers.
Bejaran told the students – too young to remember the show – that he was inspired by his love of the show “CHiPs” when he was a kid.
“Poncherello?” said Crain, referring to actor Erik Estrada’s hugely popular character. Bejaran nodded his agreement.
Crain said he likes his job because every day is different, no call is the same, and he’s a people person who gets to meet a cross section of the community.
He told the students there are many safer and better paying ways to make a living, like going into law or medicine. Most people who go into law enforcement do so because they care about their communities, he said.
“We do it because we want to make sure our children go to a school that’s safe, or we can go to the grocery store and get home without being mugged.”
Both men also left students with a stay-in-school message, advising them it’s harder to pursue college degrees after they begin a career and have a family.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327