Corporal Elissa Elders, from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, said she was shocked upon learning she had been selected the 2021 School Resource Officer of the Year from a pool of 900 officers in the state of Florida.
“Out of all those people, I’m the one who is selected?’’ Elders said. “I’m just doing my job, but so are all the amazing people I work with. I am honored and I am humbled. Next to marrying my husband, it’s the biggest honor in my life.
“But I still can’t get over it. Me? Why me?’’
When examining Elders’ eight-year body of work at Pine View Middle School in Land O’ Lakes and hearing from the students, administrators and parents, another question quickly emerges.
Why did it take so long for Elders to be recognized?
“She really cares about the kids,’’ Pine View principal Jennifer Warren said. “She’s extremely relatable and they feel very comfortable in receiving her messages. She’s a huge part of our school and we’re all very excited to see this type of recognition.’’
Elders doesn’t seek recognition, though. Her rewards are seeing kids learn and develop.
“This isn’t a job, it’s her calling,’’ said retired law enforcement officer Bill Elders, Elissa’s husband of 14 years. “Whether something turns out to be frustrating or a great success, she has a tremendous way of separating the two, always keeping it in perspective, and never letting it take away from her purpose of helping the kids.
“I’ve listened to her cry when she sees kids hurting. I’ve listened to her laugh when they do outstanding things. She gets excited. She empathizes. She doesn’t punch a clock. It never stops. This is her life and her heart is completely in it.’’
Elders, who enlisted in the Army before a medical discharge, originally thought she wanted to become an arson investigator with the fire department. But after attending the police academy, she found her niche as Pine View’s SRO.
“My principal (Warren) is such a proactive person and she always encourages me to grow and train,’’ Elders said. “I appreciate working with such a strong leader, who has helped me process things and mature as a deputy.
“I wear many hats. I’m your friend, your counselor, your teacher, your go-to for advice. If you need something sewn for an outfit or a class project, I can do that. I’m here to help and I work for them, which makes them my boss. Whatever they need, I’m here. I want to take care of any needs or worries, so the families can concentrate on raising a good productive member of society.’’
Elders’ biggest tool: Creativity
During the school’s “Pink Out Against Bullying,’’ she wore a large pink bow in her hair and pink socks.
She’s known to pop into classrooms and actively participate.
She had a role in the school’s production of “Annie Junior,’’ playing a Keystone Cop (of course). But nothing was handed to her. Elders auditioned for the role like any student.
On St. Patrick’s Day, she makes a pot of gold with prizes. At Christmas, she uses clues for a “Corporal Elders on a Shelf’’ contest with large candy bars going to the winners.
She has a “Walking Dead Fan Club,’’ so students and parents can converse and argue about the popular television series, while using that common interest to promote fellowship and togetherness. She also has started other clubs, such as Girls on the Run and the Craft Club.
She likes to poke fun at herself. At a dance class, she displayed some cop-themed exercises, such as running after freshly baked donuts. She carries a donut-shaped water bottle in the car line. She has passed out donuts to reward students who wear their seat belts.
“Cops and donuts — classic joke, right?’’ Elders said with a laugh.
All of Elders’ out-of-the-box ideas have the same goal.
“We do have days at school where kids make poor choices,’’ Elders said. “But I want to be as involved as I can be, whether it’s doing a play, being at a basketball game, helping in the classroom, anything to share what I can and have a positive impact on students.
“When you are involved in their lives, when you can show them the right way to do it, they will be less likely to do something wrong that could result in criminal charges.’’
There are tangible signs of Elders’ state award, such as the designation on her parking spot at Pine View Middle School (“Florida SRO of the Year Parking Only’’).
Sometimes, though, Elders doesn’t see the complete results until years later. But that’s when she realizes the full impact.
“I have seen it where she runs into a former student at a restaurant or a ballgame and they are so appreciative over something she once said or did for them,’’ Bill Elders said. “She puts her heart and soul into helping kids and it’s rewarding to see them on a good road in their lives.’’
She appreciates the community’s support.
“I have gotten so many notes and messages from people congratulating me,’’ Elders said. “Some of them don’t even have a kid at our school. They are saying how proud they are. It means a lot. These kinds of well wishes really show that people are aware and how much they care about the kids, too. That’s really the mission, getting kids on the right road.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published September 29, 2021