Youth academy sparks interest

Published 6:04 pm Saturday, May 13, 2017

Eighteen students have spent the last 11 weeks delving into what it means to be a police officer or a firefighter.

It was the 12th session of the Youth Public Safety Academy, a joint effort of the Suffolk Department of Fire & Rescue and Suffolk Police Department to expose at-risk young people ages 13 to 17 to public safety careers.

“What we want to do is expose them to all elements of career choices that we can,” said Pam King, a fire investigator who helps lead the academy along with the police department’s Detective Joyce Williams.

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But it’s not just about the careers, King said.

“One of the biggest things we hope to accomplish is to provide good role models and enough information for them to make positive choices,” King said.

Throughout the class, the students heard not only from police officers and firefighters but also from forensics technicians, prosecutors, Alcoholic Beverage Control agents and others.

They got to do a ride-along with a police officer, go up in a fire department ladder truck and investigate their own mock crime scene.

Jamal Jackson, a 13-year-old student at King’s Fork Middle School, said he enjoyed going up in the ladder truck, which took the students to a height of 105 feet.

“It was fun,” he said, although he admitted he is scared of heights.

“I wanted to do the safety academy because I want to experience new people and experience things as a firefighter and police officer,” Jamal said. “I wanted to be busy after school. I wanted to be doing something. I like being active.”

Jamal said he also learned how to solve problems in a positive way.

“I learned how to get along with people and how to talk your way out of situations without using violence — even though I don’t use violence,” he said.

He also learned other important skills, like how to put out a fire and “how to respond to police officers the correct way.”

King said topics in the class have been changing throughout the years based on what’s going on in society. Interacting with police officers is taught in every course. Explaining the dangers of texting while driving has largely replaced reviewing the dangers of drunken driving. And there’s just as much talk now about human trafficking as there is about gangs.

Each year’s students put together a community service project, and the students in this year’s course chose a car wash to benefit Suffolk Animal Care. They collected money and pet supplies to aid the shelter.

“It was a successful event,” King said.

Overall, she hopes the Youth Public Safety Academy students continue to look up to the mentors they meet through the program.

“When they get out there on their own and something becomes a challenge, they know we’re here,” she said. “We’re part of a team that wants them to succeed.”

King said the program also helps the young people feel more confident and hopeful.

“You might have a student that came in with their head down, and now they’ve got their head up,” she said. “They’re good kids, and they need to be given the opportunity to succeed.”

The students will graduate at 6:30 p.m. May 25 at City Hall.