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DRACUT — “Shake with the right hand, accept with the left.”

The 9- and 10-year-old cadets practiced the words over and over as they filed in a straight line across the front of the classroom.

This one moment made the last six weeks of training and testing well worth the wait for the group of 17 children graduating from the Dracut Junior Police Academy program at the Campbell Elementary School on Dec. 4. The diplomas were great, but the kids were most excited about getting their police badges, a last-minute surprise from the instructors.

“The best thing I learned in this class is what to do if a stranger tries to kidnap me,” said Tara Brownson, 10.

Stranger danger is just one of the many skills that Dracut police officers Barry Cregg, Harry Curtis and Kerrie Bushnell equipped cadets with during their training. The students also learned a brief police history lesson, listened to guest speakers and witnessed a demonstration by K-9 Officer Bill Bailey and Mason, Dracut’s search-and-rescue dog.

The National Junior Police Academy began in 1992 as a way to motivate young people into becoming outstanding citizens by bringing the world of law enforcement into classrooms.

Officer Curtis and Linda Trouville, coordinator of elementary curriculum and professional development for the Dracut school system, researched and customized the curriculum to fit the Dracut school system in 2001.

Due to a lack of manpower, the program was suspended temporarily after the first run, until this year.

“We had a tremendous turnout and the kids were really dedicated to the lessons,” said Cregg. “There were very few absences throughout the program; we were pretty impressed.”

Since the class was such a huge success this time around, Cregg and Curtis plan to run another one in the spring.

Rhonda Sergi’s 9-year-old son Riley Sergi was inspired to participate in the academy after watching his brother go through a similar program offered by the Lowell Police Department.

“I’d love for this program to continue because of the benefits that kids get from it,” she said. “Even just getting them more comfortable with police officers is a really positive thing.”

Grasping a tiny hand firmly on the blue-linen folder, 10-year-old Jezebel Rivera glanced proudly over her shoulder at her friends as she shook her instructor’s hand. She opened the folder and triumphantly waved the certificate of completion as she walked back to her seat.

The thought of becoming a police officer had not entered Jezebel’s mind until her experience at the academy, but a seed was planted during the time she spent with the officers.

 
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“I want to be Officer Bailey when I grow up,” said Jezebel. “And I love Mason and I wouldn’t mind him being my roommate.”

For more information about the program visit the Junior Police Academy Website at www.juniorpolice academy.org.

Have a story idea? Contact Heidi Smith at 978-970-4653 or e-mail at hsmith@thevalleydispatch.com.