A special class of students – 40 youths ranging in age from 10 to 16 – graduated today from a one-of-a-kind academy – the Danville Youth Police Academy.
The graduation ceremony held at Langston Focus School for this class was the culmination of a three-week program conducted by the Danville Police Department. The academy not only gave the youths something to do for the summer, but also provided an opportunity to build bridges between police officers and youths through positive engagement.
Ryant Washington, deputy secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security for Virginia, served as the keynote speaker for the ceremony. He told the students that they can make a difference in the future of this community.
“The men and women in uniform here today believe in you,” Washington said. “They believe in you because they are here working with you. …. They want you to continue to build on what they have taught you.”
The academy kicked off on June 25 and featured daily activities and lessons. Officers introduced students to different aspects of law enforcement. Guest speakers told of their life experiences and delivered inspirational stories and messages.
The academy partnered with community organizations which instructed students on topics such as CPR and lifesaving, how to manage finances, and the programs that colleges offer and how to apply for admission.
The academy also offered students the opportunity to have hands-on engagement and build mentoring relationships with police officers while showcasing a choice for a future career.
Police Chief Scott Booth called the first academy a success. He credited the success to the work of youth engagement officer Sylvia Brooks.
“Sylvia had a vision for offering our youth something constructive to do with participation by members of our police department, and she did that with the help and contributions of many of you out here today (attending the ceremony), and she did that with no official budget. It was her vision.”
Earlier this year, Booth created a Community Engagement Unit, which is led by Capt. Tommy Merricks. In April, he named Brooks to the newly-created position of youth engagement officer. In that position, her role is to help the department to reach out to youth by coordinating events for officers to interact with kids.