KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
October 9, 2020
By Natalie Cook Clark
“What child doesn’t love a teddy bear?” asks Officer Luis Santiago. Katy ISD’s Police Department utilizes teddy bears dressed as cops to teach special education students not to fear someone in uniform.
Katy ISD Officer Luis Santiago delivers Teddy Cops to special education students at Wolman Elementary.
Grandchild Helped Inspire A Program
Katy ISD Police Officer Luis Santiago has an autistic grandchild and understands how special yet fearful these children, and students receiving special education services, can be.
In 2015, he started the Teddy Cops program to help Katy ISD police reach those students better.
Now, he hopes to get other school districts involved to help police departments state-wide to better relate to these students.
“Teddy Cops teaches special needs children not to be afraid of police officers,” says Officer Santiago. “A person in uniform is intimidating to a special needs child.”
2,100 Bears Delivered to Date
Since the program began five years ago, Teddy Cops has delivered 2,100 bears to Katy special education students.
The teddy bears for the program are purchased from Build-A-Bear Workshop. Officer Santiago raises money for them through donations and various annual fundraisers. He sews the police costumes and dresses the bears himself in his free time.
Bears Wear Masks During Pandemic
“This year we’ve incorporated the mask to show the children that by wearing one we are safe, they are safe, and we all stay safe,” says Officer Santiago.
During his presentations, Officer Santiago visits Katy ISD Early Childhood Special Education classes, which includes elementary school students. He interacts with the students by saying, “Hello,” and telling them how police officers are their friends.
Officer Santiago teaches students across the District that officers are their friends.
Officer Santiago says children feel more comfortable and at ease around police officers when they get down to the student’s level.
“I always carry at least four bears in my car,” says Officer Santiago. “If I see a student in a wheelchair, they are getting a bear.”
Officer Santiago also gives all Katy graduates in special education services a Build-A-Bear dressed in a cap and gown.
“This program has a huge impact and shows that we have a police department that gets involved with special needs,” says Officer Santiago. “We are learning a lot about autism and how to reach these students.”
“This is a great program that we are all very proud of,” says new Katy ISD Police Chief Henry Gaw.
Program Concept Shared with Neighboring Districts
Officer Santiago has reached out to neighboring districts and hopes to spread the Teddy Cops program to other areas. So far, Katy ISD is the only school district with such a program.
“It’s awesome what this program has done,” says Officer Santiago. “The best part is that smile and hug that I get.”
Katy ISD currently has 10,500 – 11,000 special education students, but this number fluctuates throughout the year. The Teddy Cops program reaches students in Early Education Special Education (formally PPCD) that includes YCAP, ECAP and Life Skills classes.