Students graduate OCPD’s youth leadership program

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

OCEAN CITY — Fifth graders at the Ocean City Intermediate School celebrated on Monday, June 4 the completion of a 10-week youth leadership program sponsored by the Ocean City Police Department.

The police officers involved hope it’s the beginning of a new outlook on life. The program is geared toward creating positive role models and focuses on allowing students to think on their own and not bow to peer pressure. Police officers stress the importance of having confidence in their decision-making to assist them in navigating through a wide variety of complicated issues.
Youth Leadership Day involved an official ceremony with certificates, SWAT team and K-9 demonstrations, an interactive driving while intoxicated lesson and a pizza party courtesy of Manco and Manco. At the end, students played basketball and other games with members of the Community-Oriented Policing Unit, including Sgt. Dave Hall and Officers Bob Reichanek, Jen Barbato and Mike Gray.
The “I’m a Leader, Not a Follower” program developed by the COP Unit has been in place since 2009.
Like the anti-drug and alcohol DARE program utilized by school districts years ago, the new program delivers the same message, but it’s updated to include modern challenges unknown even a decade ago such as cyber-bullying, texting and Facebook issues, and safety issues like bicycle and pedestrian safety, including a review of Casey’s Law.
The 10-week program was developed by the New Jersey State Police. Local police departments, Reichanek said, are permitted to make changes to the program allowing it to be more pertinent to individual communities.
Being a seashore resort, Reichanek said the OCPD places a heavy focus on bike and pedestrian safety.
“We talked about crosswalks, what responsibilities that pedestrians, bikes and cars have,” he said. “We stressed the importance of bike helmets; we covered a wide variety of safety issues.”
Police officers came to the school to interact with students for 30 minutes once a week since February. Each lesson covered a different topic. One included an interactive visit with four Ocean City High School seniors.
The role models, Reichanek said, spoke frankly about the challenges the students would face on their way to graduation.
“They spelled it out,” Reichanek said.
The younger students, he said, were advised that boredom could lead to trouble.
“They told the kids to get involved, be active, be a part of the school and the community. They talked about life lessons they had learned, trying to help the younger kids avoid making mistakes. It was all about making good decisions.”
The DWI course is always a big hit, Reichanek said. Students are fitted with special glasses that mimic how the students would see if they were drunk.
“The kids get a lot out of it,” he said, adding that the students find it difficult to function while wearing the glasses.
Hall said the community went a long time without any kind of program after DARE was discontinued years ago following a complaint questioning the effectiveness of the program.
When Police Chief Chad Callahan took over a few years ago, Hall said Callahan asked the COP Unit to devise a new, improved and enhanced program to replace it.
“We wanted to get back in the schools, and we did it in a number of ways, this was one of them,” he said. “It’s been a big success, the kids enjoy it. We teach them leadership qualities, we want them to take pride in themselves, so that they make the right decisions.
“Today was celebrating their commitment to what they’ve learned.”
Hall said officers are frequent visitors to the district’s three schools. The idea, he said, is for the students to become familiar with the officers.
“We develop friendships,” he said.
The familiarity means a student with a problem or issue will ask for help rather than digging deeper into trouble.
“They have a friend, no matter what type of situation they get into, they have somewhere to turn,” he said.
In the past, officers found the gap between the end of fifth grade and the beginning of high school permitted some students to drift. So, officers formulated a Youth Leadership Club in March. So far, a dozen students have signed up, but they plan to grow the program exponentially in the fall.
“We want to make sure the lessons are not forgotten,” Hall said. “We got a late start with the program this year, but next year we have big plans.”
Working with the Ocean City Community Center Association, the club is open to sixth through eighth grade and meets on the third and fourth Wednesday of each month during the school year 2:30-4:30 at the Ocean City Community Center. It will commence again in September.
“We’re reaching out,” Hall said.
Hall said team building will be stressed and officers hope to invite community leaders to serve as speakers.
“We’re going to have a kick-off in the fall,” he said. “We want to get more involved with the students. We’re excited about it; we should be full-tilt by the fall.”

blog comments powered by Disqus