Brewer middle schoolers hone public safety skills at two-week academy

Posted Aug. 09, 2012, at 10:11 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Tours of the county jail and county courthouse, demonstrations by bomb squad and tactical team members and the chance to see fire and rescue equipment up close and learn about the consequences of drug abuse were just some of the activities in store for this year’s class of Brewer Public Safety Youth Academy cadets.

There also was some hands-on work, including processing a crime scene and writing police reports.

Now in its third year, the academy for Brewer middle school students began on Monday of last week and culminates Friday with a fire muster and graduation ceremony.

“It gives you a really good sense of accomplishment,” cadet Teddi Gardner of Brewer said Thursday in an interview outside the Brewer Public Safety Building.

Gardner, who has participated in the two-week academy for the last two summers, returned this year as a cadet counselor.

“I think when I went for the first year, I was nervous. I thought the officers would be all uptight and serious. But they’re really nice. They’re not the stereotypical mean police officers,” she said.

Among skills she has learned during the academy are self-defense, how to read people’s body language to determine if they are lying or being truthful and what to do if a fire occurs, said Gardner, who will begin her freshman year at Brewer High School this fall.

Like many other cadets, Gardner particularly enjoyed “story time,” when police, fire, emergency medical and other professionals share stories of some of the scary things they have encountered in the course of their work.

“It was really cool for us to be able to hear that,” she said.

This academy, which began in 2010 began with 20 cadets, has grown to involve 32 students in grades six, seven and eight, Antone said. The vast majority of them are Brewer residents.

The cadets are split into two groups that spend one week with the fire department and one week with police to learn about the pros and cons of careers public safety.

Gardner said she hasn’t yet decided what she wants to pursue as a career, but said she is giving police work some serious thought.

Developed by Cpl. Steve Boyd and Officer Dan Costain, the academy curriculum is tweaked each year to provide new experiences and learning opportunities for repeat attenders, Antone said Thursday.

Before the academy was established, the city used to send youth to Camp POSTCARD (Police Officers Striving to Create and Reinforce Dreams), a weeklong summer camp for fifth- and sixth-graders held each June in Poland. But that only served four or five local students in a given year.

By providing education and experiences in-house, the city can serve six times that number.

The academy involves some classwork, as well as field trips and presentations from local law enforcement agencies such as the Brewer police and fire departments, the Bangor Police Department’s bomb squad, the Maine State Police tactical team, the Maine Warden Service and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Response Team and more, Brewer police Lt. Chris Martin said earlier this week.

But it wasn’t all work, Antone noted Thursday. Activities included a trip to Acadia Fun Park in Trenton and an overnighter at the Brewer Auditorium featuring swimming at the city pool, pizza, movies and games, among other things.

Antone said that the academy is offered at no cost to students, their families or taxpayers, as it is funded with drug forfeiture money and funding from the Brewer firefighters union.

Boyd, who co-directs the academy with Costain, said that public safety officials also benefit from the academy in that it helps foster healthy relationships with local young people, and by extension, the larger community.

“It’s not only that these 32 kids get to experience time with us and build relationships,” he said. “They also go back and let their friends know that they’ve spent time with us, let them know the things they’ve learned and how to interact with officers and firefighters.”

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