Last month, a second grader at the Huber Street School wrote to Police Det. Aniello Schaffer,“How does it feel being a cop? Is the head of the Police Department nice to you? You must be the best in the department.”
The letter was one of several that second-graders sent to the officers, meant to teach them how to write letters.
Four second-grade teachers — Elish Viggiani, Cindy Viera, Alexis Leppin, and Orietta Tringali – organized the activity. Officers also wrote back to the students as well, sending them rulers with the department logo on them.
One letter, addressed to Officer Billy Eccles, who heads the town’s L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) program and frequently visits the school, thanks him “for being a true hero. When we walk down the hallway, you always smile and say, 'Hello.' You make us safe and our family too. Thank you for catching the bad guys.”
Another letter for Eccles probes deeper. “Are you scared when robbers come close to you?” it asks. “When a robber is in a house and is trying to steal stuff, do you have other officers help you catch the bad guys?”
“Who better to write to than the men and women that are protecting our schools every day, and the town?” said Viggiani, who led the initiative. “My teammates and I decided, 'Let's do it. Let's send the letters. My brother in law is one of the sergeants (Michael Viggiani) on the department, so I had asked if he could get me names from the chief, down to the last hire. He provided us with that, and the kids just were so excited about it. They couldn't wait. The energy in the room when they were writing these letters was amazing.”
According to Viera, the effort was also to help build students' relationships with local municipal workers.
“They're extremely overwhelmed at how someone like a police officer could write to them.” -- Alexis Leppin
The students were very happy that the officers are responding, Viera added. “They're [officer letter] coming in dribs and drabs throughout the week,” she said. “So the excitement on their faces when they get a letter, they're so excited that they line up.”
“They're extremely overwhelmed at how someone like a police officer could write to them,” said Leppin. “I think that students knowing more about their community and their community workers helps them become more involved in their community. I think it also makes them feel safe that they know the names of these police officers.”
As it turns out, civil service runs through Leppin's family. Her husband is a firefighter for the Secaucus Fire Department and her brother-in-law is a chief for the department. Her son, who is also a second-grader at Huber Street and has written letters to Secaucus police, is already familiar with many local officers.
“Having written to someone that he knows is a privilege,” she said.
“It was fabulous,” said Tringali of the letter exchanges. “I think it's just a positive thing overall and it's nice to give recognition to one of our community helpers. It was nice to recognize police officers and let them know we're proud of them.”
“The children appreciate all police officers do each day to keep the people of Secaucus safe,” a press release discussing the project said. “They are grateful for the day-to-day assistance they receive while they cross Paterson Plank Road to get to school, for the times officers are present during drills, for the wave[s] [of] hello as they drive by in their police vehicle[s], and for the high-fives the children receive when they see the officers up close.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org