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Elementary students thank police with letters, signs

Starr Elementary students and staff are pictured with a group of New Richmond police officers after the officers picked up a pile of signs and letters from the students thanking them for their service and for being there to support them. Jordan Willi / Rivertowns Multimedia1 / 2
A group of New Richmond police officers dropped by Starr Elementary to pick up signs and letters written by students for Police Officer Memorial Week, on Wednesday, May 17. The officers drove up with their lights flashing as the students stood outside cheering them on. Officers pictured include, (from left) police chief Craig Yehlik, Sgt. Jake Sather and officer Todd Shafer. Jordan Willi / Rivertown Multimedia2 / 2

On Wednesday, May 17, Starr Elementary students cheered loudly as a line of New Richmond police vehicles — with their lights flashing — circled the school's roundabout before stopping to collect a pile of signs and letters thanking the officers for their service to the community of New Richmond.

"My husband is in law enforcement, so it has always been important for us to celebrate what they do for us, our community and the sacrifices that they have to make," said Starr Elementary special service teacher Natassia Bangert. "I used to teach at the high school, so now that I'm at the elementary, I knew that this would be something the kids would really enjoy. The kids loved it."

Officers took a few minutes to collect the signs and letters, which also gave them the chance to interact with the students. Many of the students gave the officers high-fives, while others gave them a big hug to thank them for everything they do, especially during Police Officer Memorial Week.

"It is the little things like this that keep us going," said New Richmond police chief Craig Yehlik. "It is hard to put into words how much we appreciate things like this. Making contact with the kids is also really important to us because we'd rather have them seeing us at this level, for positive things like this than the alternative. It is nice to build these bridges when the kids are young so they feel like they can trust us when they need help."

The signs and letters varied in their contents and wording, but they all shared a common thread of thanks.

"Everyone was saying thank you for keeping us safe, for protecting our community and for serving justice," Bangert said. "They also thanked them for keeping our country safe and that they were their heroes. A lot of kids said that they wanted to be a police officer when they grow up and that they look up to them. It was really sweet."

The original idea behind the police drive up was to have students write letters and cards to the officers, but once more people heard about Bangert's efforts, the project grew bigger and bigger.

"I asked the staff if they wanted to do something a couple weeks ago and everyone just started bringing all the different cards, posters and signs in and asked me to do an activity with their class, which was fun," Bangert said. "I had emailed Chief Yehlik to see if I could get names of the officers so I could split everything up so it wasn't just a giant pile of letters and so each person could get a little set of something. Then he had the idea that he could send one officer down to get everything and take a picture with the kids.

"And then he saw (Starr fifth-grade teacher) Greg Kier and they had the idea to bring some squad cars down. It just kind of snowballed and it worked out great. The weather cooperated and the kids really enjoyed it."

After seeing how the students took to the project, and their reaction to seeing and getting to thank officers in person, Bangert feels like the police thank you project is something that could be done every year.

"It is such a fun activity and I think it is so important to teach our kids that police officesr are here for us and to support, and that they are not the bad guys," Bangert said. "I think it is a great activity. We do that with our own children and it is a conversation that we always have. The more kids that we can have doing this — and they have so much fun doing it — the better."

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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