The negativity some elements in American society have displayed toward law enforcement - including a string of police officer assassinations - prompted Mae Hensley Junior High School students to reach out Thursday morning with words of appreciation and expressions of love for about 18 Ceres Police officers.
Led by eight grade language arts teachers Joleen Hammell and Morgan Rossiter, the class offered brunch, conversation and a short video of students expressing good will toward local police.
"The students have been looking at different forms of protest, both peaceful and violent protests," Hammell told the gathering of officers. "They've been looking at the movements going on in response to some of the issues going on right now and we are focused on counter argument and rebuttal. So we are doing our best to present them with both sides of the issue on the ‘Black Lives Matter' and ‘Blue Lives Matter' movements and they've been doing a lot of research the last two and a half weeks. And they felt it was very important today to show you their appreciation and show you that, we, as a community, as a school, as citizens of Ceres, we really appreciate you and thank you for all that you do."
The campus was also decorated with black and blue tape, said Hammell, as a sign of support for police.
Students Abigail Garland and Jayden Borba spoke to the collection of officers.
"We know these issues are real and desperately needed to be dealt with," said Garland of examples of police brutality, "... we also know that not everything is dealing with the issues in the most appropriate. But whenever one stands on the issue we forget to simply say thank you to the brave souls who put their lives on the line each and every day to help ensure safety."
Borba said it is a credit to police who remain professional and show respect to "the worst elements of humanity" who do not return the favor.
Greeting cards were presented to Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith and Lt. Rick Collins. Smith mentioned to students that he was having flashbacks to the time he attended Mae Hensley Junior High School.
The outpouring affected Officer Greg Yotsuya who spoke to the students.
"It's people like you and othersm- we call them the Silent Majority - who make us want to go out and do our jobs every day," said Yotsuya. "It's all worth it after we've had a bad day and see people wave and give us a smile. It makes a huge difference. It means the world to us."
Chief Smith suggested the junior high age level is the best time to instill respect for police in youth, saying most who reach high school have already formed their opinions.
Detective Bryan Ferreira told students at his table that he was blown away by the event.
"It's good for us to see the support and to feel appreciated," he said. "This is awesome. I'm thoroughly impressed."
A total of 61 police officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016. The losses were intensified in Stanislaus County when on Nov. 13 Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Dennis Wallace of Hughson was gunned down during a traffic stop. Arrested in the shooting was David Machado of Keyes.
Wallace's brother, Modesto Police Detective David Wallace attended the Mae Hensley event and sat down with students who quizzed him about police work.
"It's a fun job but it's a challenge," Wallace told Gabriela Soto. He explained that he and his brother got into law enforcement because their father, the late California Highway Patrol officer Dennis Taylor Wallace.
"Our Dad was a law enforcement officer and we wanted to be like our hero."
Wallace told Soto how he enjoys tracking down and stopping ID thieves who victimize seniors by hacking their accounts to steal their money.
A display board featured a number of student expressions of support for police. Aaliyah Ruiz wrote: "I believe it is very important to show appreciation to law enforcement because they protect us every day at the risk of losing their own lives. Our law enforcement is pretty selfless for protecting us every day at their own risk. Many people in our community would not have the courage to do what they do. Also, they are pretty good at protecting us because nothing bad has happened."
Michael Leon wrote: "A lot of officers have died by trying to protect us, the citizens, and I appreciate that a lot. They go out every day and put their lives on the line to keep us safe, so we should be letting them know how much we care."
Chief Smith said students at Patricia "Kay" Beaver Elementary recently honored the 46 officers within his department by giving a bag of candy with each piece representing some virtue.