Junior Police Academy cultivates community values

66 kids celebrate completion at the Mohawk House

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  • From left, Det. Lt. Terence Mulligan, Cpl. Rob Fraser, Cpl. Tom Snyder, Officer Taylor May, Cpl. Joe Antonello, Steve Scro, Lt. John Lamon, Cpl. Rick Smith, Deputy Mayor Josh Hertzberg, Councilwoman Christine Quinn and Mayor Gil Gibbs

  • The kids were treated to baked ziti, sausage and peppers and hamburger sliders

  • About 75 parents and other well-wishers attended the ceremony at the Mohawk House

  • Lt. John Lamon organized and ran the academy

  • Isabella Ruby and Gavin Denmead relate how they analyzed the crime scene

By Joseph Picard

— “It was very fun,” Colin Ryan, 10, said of his three days at the Sparta Junior Police Academy. “I liked the learning experience, seeing what the police do. I also liked seeing all those police dogs.”

Colin was one of 66 boys and girls, from fourth to eighth grade, who last Friday celebrated their graduation from the Sparta Junior Police Academy at a luncheon ceremony at the Mohawk House.

The academy, completing its fourth year, was held Wednesday through Friday of last week at the Sparta Middle School. For the last two years it has been organized and run by Lt. John Lamon and Cpl. Joe Antonello of the Sparta police, with the backing of the department and the hands-on help of several other officers.

The course costs $35 a student. All other expenses, including the luncheon for the kids of baked ziti, sausage and peppers and hamburger sliders, were covered by Steve Scro, owner of the Mohawk House, and Eric Nielsen, owner of the Nielsen Automotive Group.

“We want to cultivate youngsters into good people,” Scro said. “Programs like this help build confidence in kids and teach them the value of teaming up with others. It gives them real respect for law enforcement and better prepares them for the challenges of life.”

“This program has grown every year,” said Sparta Mayor Gil Gibbs, who hung a medal on each of the kids. “The first year there were only 10 students. Now there’s 66. I’m proud of these kids, and I’m proiud of our police department. My parents taught me to give back to the community, and that’s what this program is teaching. This is about helping each other and helping the community. If just one of these kids grows up to do something special, then this effort is worth it.”

Lamon and Antonello were intent on creating a learning atmosphere that kept the kids engaged.

“We wanted to make it a hands-on, interactive academy,” Lamon said. “The kids get to do everything. They get to touch everything.”

In addition to demonstrations of bomb squad robots, EMS helicopters and the K-9 unit, the kids partook in crime scene investigations, fingerprinting, figuring the way out of an escape room, and shooting airsoft guns.

“I really liked learning how to shoot a gun,” said Brady Ryan, 12, Colin’s older brother. “It’s learning how to better protect yourself.”

At the graduation ceremony, each of the academy attendees was presented with a medal, a graduation certificate and an additional certificate from state Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex). One student from each grade level was awarded a trophy for best airsoft shooter. The winners were:

Romina Perri, 4th grade;

Brandon Sangorski, 5th grade;

Charlie Canzonniero, 6th grade;

Owen Hassloch, 7th grade; and

Paul Genat, 8th grade.

Two students, Gavin Denmead and Isabella Ruby explained to the audience of about 75 parents, officers and other well-wishers, how they analyzed a crime scene and followed the evidence.

Kathleen Arcieri, mother of Patrick Dunn, said her son was apprehensive at first about attending the academy.

“But when he came home from the first day, he was ecstatic,” she said. “He was thrilled to be learning about police officers and what they do for our community.”

John Trela of Sparta had two sons, David and Matthew, attend the academy.

“It prepares them for life, helps them anticipate problems and be aware of dangers,” Trela said. “It also helps kids establish a good relationship with police.”

Cpl. Antonello echoed these sentiments.

“We help others and want to be seen in the light of helping others,” he said. “Doing the academy is very rewarding. It is especially rewarding when kids come back as repeats from the previous year.”

Other officers, including Cpl. Rob Fraser, Cpl. Rick Smith, Cpl. Tom Snyder and Officer Taylor May, assisted Lamon and Antonello at the academy.

“This took weeks of work before these three days of hustle and bustle,” Lt. Lamon said. “And it was worth it. When the kids say they had a great time, and they tell their parents they had a great time — that’s my reward.”

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