Former street cop becomes school resource officer

Oct. 13, 2008
Officer works with students, staff to ensure safety at California high school


Oct. 9--He was a street cop before his beat became the nearly 50-acre Yuba City High campus -- and school resource officer Al Ortega says the transition allows time with teens he didn't encounter very often on the streets.

Ortega now interacts with youths who often don't get much media attention, the students who stay out of trouble and whose energy and interest can be contagious.

Spend much of your workday around such young people, Ortega said, and you don't despair about the future. You have faith in it.

"These kids have dreams," he said. "These kids care."

His work at Yuba City High, which began in 2001, isn't all upbeat.

"I'm here to provide security," Ortega said.

Still, he said the gang-related issues he deals with involve a small section of the student body of about 1,800 students.

His role at Yuba City High is a homecoming of sort for Ortega. He graduated from the school in the 1970s after two years at Wheatland High.

The world youths live in now, Ortega noted, is not the more innocent adolescent life of the movie "American Graffiti." Teenagers today face demands and pressures that people who went to school decades earlier may not understand, Ortega added.

Nancy Aaberg, superintendent of the Yuba City Unified School District, calls Ortega an invaluable resource for the school district.

"He is able to represent law enforcement as a positive source of support," Aaberg said, citing Ortega's "technical advice, friendly demeanor and accessibility."

Successful youth, Ortega said, require parents who pay the kind of attention to their children that a careful gardener does to soil. Weeds can begin to grow and take over land that's neglected, Ortega noted.

Among the ways parents can better understand their sons and daughters is to come to high school and see their interaction, the school resource officer said.

"You can learn so much in 40 minutes at lunch," Ortega said.

Students at Yuba City High have said thanks to their school resource officer in a range of ways, including a 2007 football game when cheerleaders sang "Happy Birthday" to Ortega.

Lawrence Mendoza, student body president at Yuba City High, said of the school resource officer, "It's helpful to know that someone is there on site."

Paul Johnson, assistant principal at Yuba City High, spoke of the great job Ortega does and how he "provides a presence on campus that lets students know things are OK."

Bruce Morton, director of student welfare for the Yuba City Unified School District, will speak Oct. 23 with Ortega at Gray Avenue School in Yuba City as part of a 6 p.m. event for parents.

"He works with students very closely," Morton said of Ortega. "He's very, very dedicated to his work."

Contact Appeal reporter Ryan McCarthy at 749-4707 or rmc

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