After 13 weeks, fifth-grade students from Berlin Community School and Our Lady of Mount Carmel celebrated their graduation from the Berlin Police Department’s LEAD program Monday, April 29.
Nearly 100 students were present at the night’s ceremony, among family and friends, as well as elected officials with Berlin Borough and the Berlin Police Department.
The LEAD program, standing for Law Enforcement Against Drugs on the street and in the classroom, focuses on multiple issues as students in the community begin to grow up to a more mature age.
While drug and alcohol prevention is a main fixture of the program, it also allows for the opportunity for students to get familiar with members of their local police department, something that school administration recognizes as well.
“Tonight is an exciting night because it celebrates the relationship that has been cultivated between the students and the Berlin Police force,” said Richards.
Before being addressed and awarded their certificates by the three lead officers who were present in classrooms around Berlin Borough, Chief of Police Millard Wilkinson reminded students of the importance and significance of what they learned throughout the 13 weeks.
“We’re here for you guys, and we’re here not because you’ve won anything, but because you’ve made a promise,’ said Wilkinson. “Not only to your parents, not only to the school, not only to the police department … but you made a promise to yourself.”
“And there’s going to come a time when you get a little older, maybe not all that far away, when you’re going to be tempted by the friends that you choose to hang around,” Wilkinson added.
Mayor Jim Bilella echoed the statements of Wilkinson.
“Remember what you’ve learned here, it’s very important” said Bilella. “I’m sure you all want to be successful and have great ideas about what you want to do in life. In order to hit those accomplishments, you need to pick your friends well, choose and make good decisions and used what you’ve learned through the LEAD program to make the right decisions.”
Berlin officers Eric Wolf, Josh Smith and Brett Vetterly were the members of the Berlin Police Department that were present in classrooms throughout the weeks of instruction. According to the officers, they feel that their presence helps familiarize students with police officers personally, and a relationship develops overtime.
“The first class is more of an introduction and you get those basic questions of what fifth-graders perceive police officers as,” said Smith. “But then once you get those out of the way, they realize you’re a human being underneath the uniform and they become more eager to interact with you in a positive way.”
Smith also said, over time, he and other officers have come across previous students they’ve taught in LEAD programs over the years. Out in the community, it leads to more alert and more honest and trustworthy residents years down the road.
“It’s a great program, it gets us in the classroom with the kids and they get to know us and bridge that gap,” said Wolf. “And it’s right before that adolescent age where they’re getting into an experimental phase. This is the beginning of them becoming the adults that they’re going to be.”
According to the officers, this year’s classes, from both schools, were very positive and interested in the material while engaging in important conversation with the police officers during their weekly meetings.
“This entire class was excellent, very active and eager to learn,” Smith said. “A lot of participation in class as well.”
Acting Superintendent Joseph Campisi says a large building block for these students moving forward, thanks to the program, is separating perception from reality with regard to how drugs and alcohol are viewed, such as in music, television and movies.
“A lot of things about drugs and alcohol are glamorized on television with the things they see,” said Campisi. “We have to make sure they understand the difference between perception and what reality can actually be if you go down the wrong path, and that’s why this program is so important.”