TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- By the way he cheers and high fives, you’d never guess Topeka Police officer David Ibarra once didn’t know how to speak up.
“A lot of movies, you watch a lot of moves and you start picking up English,” Ibarra said.
Ibarra’s family moved from Mexico to the United States when he was a child. They settled in Utah where like most kids he went to school. But, unlike most kids, he didn’t speak the same language as his peers.
“The teacher would sit there, she didn't know what my problem was,” said Ibarra. “I couldn't express myself in a way to explain, hey I just don't understand what the heck is going on and why my mother keeps trying to drop me off here every day.”
After months of tears he caught on, later serving in the army and now as a police officer.
It’s his first language that comes in handy at State Street Elementary where he’s a School Resource Officer.
“I remember growing up and feeling that transition of coming to the United States,” Ibarra explained. “Of having to adjust to school, to the schedule, to the way of life here and it's great to be able to help those families adjust to that."
He works with students like Fabian who’d rather go without his glasses.
"I know they sometimes hurt or don't feel comfortable but you can see the letters a lot better,” he says to Fabian.
And another student, Ivan, who he speaks Spanish with.
“You're going to be a police officer one day, right? And you are going to work with me? Because we are best friends and we need to look out for each other, right,” he says in Spanish.
They’re more than best friends, Officer Ibarra says, they’re a family.
“At lot of my time is spent doing home visits with the kids,” said Ibarra. “If there's maybe things going on at home, the great thing about being a police officer and being bilingual, we're able to go to the home and I'm able to have that conversation with that parent.”
In the Oakland neighborhood and in East Topeka, homes sound a lot like the one Ibarra grew up in.
“There's not a lot of English speaking in the home and so the kids kind of understand English, they grow up in it but the parents are still just speaking the native language of Spanish,” he explained. “So, it’s been really cool as a police officer to bridge that gap.”
He says bilingual officers are called daily to break down language barriers and build trust.
“Where they come from there's not a lot of trust in police officers so here, at first, they don't have that trust with us either,” said Ibarra. “I feel that we've broken down a lot of barriers in our Hispanic and Latino communities because they're like, this officer understands me.”
It all starts by giving kids a voice.
“I think if we just do more of that, police officers, the public in general, we take more of a role as mentors, our kids are going to turn out a lot better,” Ibarra said.