Police mentor Irvine children
Irvine Police Officer Alex Mendoza is one of four full-time D.A.R.E. officers that serve as teachers, mentors and role models in Irvine elementary schools.

Police bike-ride teaches elementary life lessons

D.A.R.E bike ride teaches kids the simple joys of playing outside — and helping others

by Tom Berg

All year long, Irvine Police D.A.R.E. Officer Alex Mendoza had been teaching Beacon Park School students to be good kids, so what happened recently shouldn’t surprise anyone.

But still.

On the day of their year-end D.A.R.E. bike ride, Luke Porter, 11, pedaled to school early and went looking for his fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Mullen. He asked a custodian to track her down.

“Who’s looking for me at this hour?” Mrs. Mullen wondered. Then she saw Luke, who knew she didn’t have a bike for that day’s ride.

“Would you like to borrow my sister’s bike?” he asked.

One reason Irvine continually ranks as America’s safest city is its commitment to community policing – with the D.A.R.E. program as a shining example.

Irvine commits four full-time police officers to teach D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to fifth and sixth graders – reaching nearly 3,000 students each year.

In addition to providing a layer of safety, the D.A.R.E. officers provide an important connection for kids to see police as friends, mentors and role models.

“D.A.R.E. is about more than just saying no to drugs,” said Mendoza, who’s taught it for seven years. “It’s about making good decisions, and becoming a better human being.”

A day before the group ride, officers taught fifth-grader Ayden Lee to ride a bike so he could join about 100 classmates on the ride from Beacon Park School to the Great Park.

“I liked feeling the wind against my face,” Lee said of his first bike ride ever, “and just having fun.” That’s what Mendoza likes to hear.

“This bike ride is about demonstrating a healthy choice,” he said, “and a healthy activity.”

Irvine Police also commit a full-time officer to the middle schools teaching student empowerment, and seven full-time officers to the high schools – one in each school – as school resource officers.

Middle School Officer Rick Gramer notes, “By the time students reach middle school, they already know two police officers by name. Students are comfortable with police.”

That’s the idea.

Mendoza tells of one boy who stood in front of his class and apologized for being a bully. Other students said they began volunteering as a result of the class.

“All D.A.R.E. officers receive thank you notes,” he added. “But it’s special when you get a note that says, ‘Thank you for helping me become a better person.’”

Just before the ride, Mendoza gathered the students in a classroom to go over bike etiquette, safety and activities planned at the Great Park. “What’s the most powerful emotion in the world?” he asked. “The emotion you should approach everything you do with?”

In unison, they answered: “Love.” And with that, they pulled on helmets and climbed on bikes.

Luke Porter took a minute to show Mrs. Mullen her loaner bike: a yellow Americano that belonged to Luke’s sister Cora, 9, along with a watermelon-painted helmet – both of which were adjusted to fit Mrs. Mullen.

“I was going to walk the route today,” the teacher said, taking her place in line, “but now I have this. Thank you.”

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