By Leah Mishkin
Everywhere you look, middle-school-aged students are training with the rescue squad and the fire department. They’re taking scuba lessons and doing physical training exercises in the pool. The entire staff has prior military or current law enforcement experience.
The Emergency Services Youth Academy is in Bogota. It’s a three-week, military-style training program that teaches fifth, sixth and seventh graders emergency responder skills. But it also teaches them leadership, responsibility and accountability.
Craig Lynch, the program’s director, has experience with both the military and police, says this program not only teaches students life skills from hygiene to social media to nutrition, it’s the purest form of crime prevention.
He added, “Our kids don’t get in trouble. Our kids don’t abuse drugs. We have no fights in our school system. The program has a profound effect districtwide, and more importantly, at home.”
Parents who have children in the program echo that statement.
Idalia Alvarez said her daughter struggled in school in sixth grade, saying, “She was having a lot of difficulties, especially in math, no matter how she tried.”
But last year – after the program – she says her daughter, Tiffany, was inducted into the National Honor Society.
We spoke with Tiffany by the pool and she said, “I focused a lot better and I got very good grades this year. I was just always committed and determined and that’s what this program teaches you — to never give up, that you can do it because you have courage. It helps kids conquer fears of being shy, meeting new people, talking a lot. It gives them confidence.”
And don’t let these tough exteriors fool you, each teacher in this program is a volunteer. They’re here on their spare time because they want to see each one these students succeed.
“Young people crave discipline and structure. There’s no negativity. Our primary goal is to positively affect their self-esteem,” said Lynch.
In seven years, 436 students have gone through the program. But Lynch doesn’t stop just there, he makes sure to keep in touch throughout their education.
Another parent, Alexandra Pico-Cabrera, added, “Sgt. Lynch, when he sees them he has words of encouragement. He always asks how they’re doing and it has transferred into them becoming better people, and also better students.”
Better, thanks to one man who had one idea to create positive change with volunteers — one cadet at a time.