Hazeltine teachers lead a schoolwide pledge to say no to drugs, gangs, crime and bullying.

Hazeltine teachers lead a schoolwide pledge to say no to drugs, gangs, crime and bullying.

Los Angeles Police Department officers descended this week on Hazeltine Avenue Elementary School in squad cars, unmarked vehicles and by helicopter – not in response to any emergency but to acknowledge the 700-plus students who pledged to “Just Say No” to drugs, gangs, crime and bullying.

During the rally, sponsored by the nonprofit Los Angeles Police Baseball Foundation, students, teachers and administrators joined officers, volunteers, and community members for a morning of hula-hoop, dance, and rapping contests, as well as the recitation of the “Just Say No” pledge.

“I am so energized!” said Officer Michael Scott, president of the foundation. “We have never seen so much enthusiasm from a group of kids like this. They are so excited about the message of positive interactions. It’s absolutely infectious.”

LAPD Officer and Police Baseball Foundation President Michael Scott shows his talents as an emcee, rapper, and messenger about positive social to enthusiastic Hazeltine students.

LAPD Officer and Police Baseball Foundation President Michael Scott shows his talents as an emcee, rapper, and messenger about positive social behaviors.

Scott worked with Alexa Guzman, an L.A. Unified Healthy Start navigator, to coordinate the event at the Van Nuys campus.

“I am a proud product of LAUSD who grew up right here in this neighborhood,” Guzman said. “This is not only a great celebration but also an important investment in the future of the community that I love so much. I want these kids to know that they are not just statistics or numbers. They’re human beings who are destined to grow up to be model citizens.”

In addition to the pledges signed by Hazletine students, fourth- and fifth-graders wrote essays about the dangers of negative behaviors. The rally was their reward for the commitment they made.

It featured a flyover by officers in an LAPD helicopter, which sent the students into a frenzy of excitement, and a clever rap number performed by Scott himself with a message to students to “be the cool kid who says ‘no.’” Students and teachers were invited to offer their own raps as well for a chance to win more prizes.

Hazeltine teachers reveal their talents with holly hoops as they try to win prizes for their classrooms.

Hazeltine teachers reveal their talents with hula hoops as they try to win prizes for their classrooms.

Hazeltine Principal Seth Avery said the rally aligned perfectly to a month of activities aimed at promoting positive social interactions.

“This is an important culmination to our ‘Unity Month’ when we make a stand against bullying,” Avery said. “As October is Bullying Prevention Month, we strive to address the issue in a positive way. When we talk with our students every day about the importance of unity and helping others, we keep them moving in the right direction.”

In addition to reinforcing messages about positive behavior, the rally helped shape students’ perceptions of police officers as positive role models and protectors of the community.

Healthy Start navigator Alexa Guzman (left) organized the event with Officer Michael Scott and her colleague, psychiatric social worker Susana Bustamante.

Healthy Start navigator Alexa Guzman, left, organized the rally with Officer Michael Scott and her colleague, psychiatric social worker Susana Bustamante.

“The up-close-and-personal interaction between our officers and the kids is so important,” Scott said. “One of our primary goals is to earn their trust at a young age, so they know there are people in their neighborhood who have their backs and will stand up for them when they do the right thing.”

Scott said the baseball foundation works with schools around Los Angeles to hold these events every month and is delighted to see participation grow each time. The Hazeltine event, he noted, was the largest to date.

“We are basically planting seeds today that will blossom and grow long after we’re gone,” he said. “That’s our emphasis. We’re doing it for the future of our kids. When they learn now which paths are the best ones to follow, they will live brighter lives in the future.”