Norwich - Asked to comment on the benefits of the middle school Student Police Academy and city police, school officials, parents and students alike had a difficult time separating the popular program from the equally successful middle school police resource officer program.
Both of them could be in their final days this week, casualties of deep budget cuts in the public schools. The two school resource officers (SROs) were eliminated, at a savings of $202,000, and although some grant funding might be available for the academy, it was those school-based officers who chose the student cadets and ran the program.
"I wanted to do it again," said Student Police Academy graduate Katelynn Gosselin. "I wanted to do it again in the summer program. Because there's not going to be SROs, I'm going to be lost."
On Monday, 18 middle school students graduated from the spring 10-week Student Police Academy, the fourth program run by the school resource officers. Two additional students, graduates, Simone Roderick and Kiara Martinez, were invited back as corporals this semester.
"It's a good program," Martinez said. "They should keep it going."
Superintendent Abby Dolliver said whether the program will continue depends on future funding.
Ross Anderson, public school Extended Learning coordinator, said he hopes to find a way to keep the Student Police Academy going. It is funded through a three-year, nearly $200,000 grant called Aspire, which funds numerous school programs. The academy costs only $3,500 per session, Anderson said, including overtime for the two resource officers.
Police Chief Louis Fusaro said the two school resource officers at Teachers' Memorial and Kelly middle schools did more to bring police officers and youths together than any other outreach program. The academy is just a small portion of that program, he said. Norwich police have lost 17 officer positions in the past several years, Fusaro said, making this type of prevention program all the more valuable.
Teachers' Memorial Principal William Peckham said Monday mornings have been transformed by the resource officers. In the past, middle school principals often had to deal with the residue of weekend or vacation neighborhood fights and tensions when the students returned to school on Mondays. For the past two years since the resource officers have been stationed at the schools, Peckham said those issues often have been resolved before they reached his desk.
Kelly Middle School Resource Officer Chris Conley spent his time at the podium Monday praising the student participants for their dedication. Participants had to maintain good grades, attendance and good behavior. In the program, they got to see real police training up close, including a trip to the Police Academy in Meriden and did one day of community service at the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen. Several students said that was their favorite part of the program.
Kelly sixth-grader Kobe Schnieder said his favorite part was "looking at all the weapons." But glancing at his mother, he added that the program helped him focus on his grades and attendance - and behavior, mother Gretchen Schnieder said. Kobe said he got an A in math, his most difficult subject, and in study support.
"Officer Conley was awesome at calling and making sure he did everything," Gretchen Schnieder said. "That made me very appreciative."
The following students graduated Monday from the Norwich Student Police Academy:
From Kelly Middle School: Christopher Barr, Kaliko Dwight, Jeffery Hebert, George Main, Craig Maerkel, Kobe Schnieder, Kevin Sikorski, Gregory Toussaint and Hector Vargas.
From Teachers' Memorial Middle School: Elisabeth Baker, Taylor Bargnesi, Taylor Bradley, Codie Demao, Victoria Duffy, Katelynn Gosselin, Cheyenne Johnson, Yasmine Lee and Kaylie Peterson.
Corporals: Simone Roderick and Kiara Martinez, both Kelly Middle School.