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Cadets and Kids

Cadets and Kids photo 11/4/2015 2:00:30 p.m. - Hobbs, NM.  

(Story courtesy of Dorothy N. Fowler, Hobbs News-Sun)


Mills Elementary school was busy Tuesday as 19 New Mexico Junior College Police Academy cadets lined up to spend an hour reading to students or, if they had a chance, playing a modified game of volleyball with them in the gym.

And, while cadets were reading and Scrubby was re-enforcing lessons about hand-washing, a contingent of workmen were working on the card-reading system that lets teachers and other school personnel get into the building with an identity card instead of a key.

The cadets are at the end of a 16-week period of intense training that will end with their graduation Thursday at the Lea County Event Center. They arrived at Mills with what looked like their firearms as well as other equipment. Angie Byrd, director of law enforcement and training at NMJC, said the weapons were “training weapons.”

“We didn’t want firearms on the campus,” Byrd said as she pointed 14 of the cadets toward kindergarten and first-grade classrooms and the other five toward second-grade classrooms.

Byrd said all but one of the cadets already has a job in law enforcement. The one who doesn’t is only 20 years old and can’t be fully certified until his 21st birthday. “Then he’ll have a job,” she said. “New Mexico is 800 law enforcement officers short,” she said. “Anyone who can get through the academy can get a job in law enforcement.” Shelby Stroik, one of the two women in the class, will become a game warden, doing what she described as “managing and protecting game.” At least part of the game she’ll be protecting is mule deer, she said. “Some of the biggest mule deer in the state are in southeast New Mexico,” she said.

Unlike most of the other graduates, Stroik will be working for the state government instead of for city or county law enforcement.

Another graduate who will not be working for local or state law enforcement is Jarrod Col-liver, who will be a campus policeman at New Mexico University. He said there is more for a campus policeman to do than people may realize. “There’s lots of student housing and some family housing and when people live together, there are domestic calls,” he said. “I wanted to get into law enforcement because I wanted to help people,” he said. “And a college campus is a good place to do that.”

Mills’ first and second-grade students were among the first recipients of the desire to help people as the cadets went from room to room reading to students who listened attentively as cadets read. Cadet Nelson McGuire read a story about an incident involving a bully to Kristie Santos’ second-grade class. Students laughed when the story ended with the victim’s little sister being so fierce that the bully was intimidated. McGuire, who has earned bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, told the students that the work toward his degree was hard. “We had a big book about this thick,” using his thumb and forefinger to illustrate. “I wrote a lot of it down so I can go back and read it because I’m not very good at remembering everything.”

The second-graders, many of whom are awaiting the arrival of their two front teeth, asked McGuire if the police academy was hard. He said it takes lots of practice handcuffing people, shooting guns and “driving as fast as I could around some cones.” Students who are in athletics agreed with him that doing things well requires practice.

Down the hall, in the gymnasium, four cadets were engaged in batting balloons back and forth to students over a volleyball net. The balloons, two red, one green, one blue, one orange and one purple, flew back and forth as Alice Sapping-ton, Mills physical education teacher, watched. “This is a good way to teach kids that cops aren’t scary,” she said. When a blue balloon popped, she asked the student who held it to put it in the trash so “we can have a balloon funeral.” As the class ended, she asked students who had balloons in “warm colors” to bring them first, followed by the students who had balloons in “cool colors.” As the contingent of cadets who played balloon volleyball left the gym, a new group came in, along with a new group of Mills students. Byrd also came in to observe and to talk about the police academy.

“This is my 16th academy class,” she said. “There are two 16-week academies each year, one each semester. We started this class with 26. Some people got hurt during the training and have to come back for the next session and some people decide it’s not something they want to do,” she said explaining why the graduating class was smaller than the number of students who started.

Byrd, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice, said she has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years, including teaching at the college level for 10 years. “I like teaching. My niche is teaching,” she said. “I want to make sure they get all the training they need to do their job and stay alive. I haven’t buried one yet and I’m proud of that.”

As Byrd and the cadets continued their work with students, Justin Santos and Bailey Cooper arrived at the front door to play their roles as Scrubby Bear. They had already been to College Lane Elementary School and were scheduled to go to Sanger Elementary after their gig at Mills. Scrubby’s suit transforms its wearer into a bear nearly seven feet tall. The head obscures vision enough that the wearer needs a guide to get him or her through doorways, but nothing about the suit prevents Scrubby from demonstrating with its paws the lessons that school nurses teach.

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