Laguna Hills elementary school honors top students in novel anti-bullying campaign

By Greg Hardesty

When a school resource officer, alarmed at an increase in bullying at an elementary school in Laguna Hills, came up with the idea of creating a program to curb such incidents, he needed a name that would capture the importance of students protecting themselves and their school.

Thus was born Operation Sheep Dog, the brainchild of Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy and SRO Anthony Sambrano.

“Sheep dogs are herders and protectors,” explained Sambrano, who is stationed at Laguna Hills High School but who also looks after the city’s three public elementary schools: Lomarena, Valencia, and San Joaquin.

OCSD Dep. Anthony Garza hands out cookies during the Operation Sheep Dog anti-bullying program recognition rally at San Joaquin Elementary on Dec. 19, 2018.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Sambrano create the pilot program at the latter elementary school in October 2018. It was so successful OCSD officials may make it a blueprint for other schools throughout the agency’s jurisdiction to adopt.

The goal of Operation Sheep Dog was to decrease acts of bullying at San Joaquin Elementary School and increase acts of kindness. Teachers would take notice of such acts and keep track of which students were performing them.

On Dec. 19, 2018, three San Joaquin Elementary students and their classmates were treated to a pizza lunch for being standout participants in Operation Sheep Dog.

OCSD Dep. Anthony Sambrano, a school resource officer, gets high-fives from San Joaquin Elementary students as they arrive for a thank-you rally for their anti-bullying efforts.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“In just two months, the school has seen a dramatic decrease in bullying-related incidents,” Sambrano said. “This would not be possible without the help of the teachers, school administration, and, of course, the students.”

The winning classes were sixth-, fifth- and first-graders, who devoured cheese and pepperoni pizzas (and cookies) donated by Villa Roma restaurant on La Paz Road in Laguna Hills.

OCSD Sgt. Anthony McFatridge talks to students during the Operation Sheep Dog anti-bullying program recognition rally at San Joaquin Elementary on Dec. 19, 2018.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Villa Roma owner Teresa Razo said her 11-year-old son was bullied at school, and that providing the winning San Joaquin students with a free lunch was her way of showing her appreciation.

“As a business, we’re very community oriented,” Razo said.

Sambrano, an SRO for 2½ years, worked the kids into a frenzy before they ate.

OCSD Dep. Anthony Sambrano helps deliver pizza to students at San Joaquin Elementary during the Operation Sheep Dog anti-bullying program recognition rally.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“I promised you guys something a few months ago, and this is it,” he told them. “You guys have done a phenomenal job of showing acts of kindness and being good friends and standing up against bullying and bad things like that.”

Acts of kindness performed by the San Joaquin Cheetahs included befriending kids who were eating alone at lunchtime and helping others in need.

The winning students, who received certificates and gift cards to Starbucks and Taco Bell, were:

OCSD Dep. Anthony Sambrano congratulates students at San Joaquin Elementary School in Laguna Hills for their anti-bullying efforts.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Jake Flores Vazquez, fifth grade

Ximena Rivea Gomez, first grade

Brandi Aroche, sixth grade

OCSD Dep. Chris Lopez hands out cookies to students at San Joaquin Elementary during the Operation Sheep Dog anti-bullying program recognition rally.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“When he (Sambrano) first came up with the idea, I thought it was great,” Laguna Hills Administrative Sgt. Aaron McFatridge said. “He’s thinking outside the box and obviously trying to get these kids to just create an environment where they feel safe with each other.

“They start to foster that environment in the classroom where they’re encouraging each other instead of putting each other down.

San Joaquin Elementary student Ximena Gomez is congratulated by Dep. Anthony Garza as she is awarded an anti-bullying certificate. Behind her, from left, are Dep. Chris Lopez, Sgt. Anthony McFatridge, and San Joaquin Elementary Office Manager Sandy Barker.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“What he’s trying to do is catch these kids at a younger age and teach them things about being responsible citizens and respectful, and creating an environment they can carry on into high school.”

Deputy Chris Lopez and Deputy Anthony Garza, who patrol Laguna Hills, joined Sambrano and McFatridge in honoring the students. Also at the Dec. 19 special lunch was Sgt. Darren Braham, who runs the OCSD’s SMART program.

San Joaquin Elementary student Ximena Gomez smiles after her name is called to receive her anti-bullying certificate. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Jake, 10, was asked what it felt like to be honored for his prodigious acts of kindness.

“Real good,” he said.

San Joaquin Elementary student Jake Vazquez is congratulated by Dep. Chris Lopez as he is awarded an anti-bullying certificate. Deputies, from left, are Anthony Garza, Chris Lopez, Sgt. Anthony McFatridge and San Joaquin Elementary Office Manager Sandy Barker.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

San Joaquin Elementary students Brandi Aroche, left, Ximena Gomez and Jake Vazquez receive their Taking A Stand Against Bullying certificates during the Operation Sheep Dog anti-bullying program recognition rally at the school. Behind them, from left, are San Joaquin Elementary Office Manager Sandy Barker, Sgt. Anthony McFatridge, Dep. Chris Lopez, Interim Principal Frank Lee, Dep. Anthony Garza, Sgt. Darren Braham, Teresa Rozo, co-owner of Villa Roma restaurant, and Dep. Anthony Sambrano.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge