Riverside Elementary honors public safety personnel

SUWANEE -- A new visitor at an elementary school almost always draws big eyes and raised eyebrows. But when visitors are in uniform, with badges, radios and weapons, the oohs and aaahs are even louder.

That was the case on Thursday at Riverside Elementary as the school celebrated "Heroes Among Us" with a lunchtime program that honored public safety, law enforcement and emergency personnel. Principal Craig Barlow said the program was brought on by the success of a similar day that featured armed forces personnel for Veterans Day.

This week, the visitors included personnel from Gwinnett County Fire, Gwinnett County Police, the City of Atlanta SWAT, the Georgia State Patrol and the FBI.

"There's another group in uniform working everyday," Barlow said. "Course, it's an elementary school, they love firefighters and policemen. Half of them want to be those things."

The school invited the personnel for lunch and honored them for their service as they ate in uniform alongside the kids and answered questions.

"It's such an honor to meet everybody that's protecting us and helping us," fifth-grader Ian Stackpol said.

Added fifth-grader Judith Chang, "It's cool that our friends' dads are officers."

Jamie Jeffers, a paramedic and firefighter with Gwinnett County, said when he was in elementary school that he wanted to be a cop.

"Cops always get to shoot people, shoot guns, catch bad guys," Jeffers said. "I always looked at a cop like an action figure."

James Cunningham, a four-year member of the City of Atlanta SWAT team, said he grew up in Washington, D.C. wanting to be a jet pilot.

"We really never had firefighters and police come to the school, so this is actually a first for me as well," Cunningham said. "It's kind of cool to see the excitement of the kids. Everybody wants to wave and shake hands. Some of them act shy, but really want you to come up and speak to them. Once you break that barrier and get down to their level and introduce yourself, and see how they open up to you, that's an exciting experience."