Students participating in a new summer camp called Camp Journey are getting a first-hand glimpse of what members of law enforcement encounter while on the job. But, more importantly, they are learning leadership skills and values through the highly structured education and adventurous camp experience which was developed as a partnership between the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, COMPACT 2020 and the Shelby County Board of Education.
The camp, which is being held June 19-June 23 at Oak Mountain Intermediate, targeted students who will be entering the sixth grade for the upcoming school year. The free camp was staffed by School Resource Officers from various schools around Shelby County. Plans are
already being made to expand the camp to other areas of the county next summer.
In addition to teaching leadership skills, the camp is providing training and messages centered on values and traits, including integrity, character, courage, grit, discipline, and teamwork. The camp also was designed to help educate students on issues they will face through adolescence and equip them with the skills needed to navigate those challenges.
“We specifically targeted the age group that is about to transition from being a kid in elementary school to an adolescent in middle school,” said Sergeant Nathan Kendrick, who serves as the SRO Unit Supervisor for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. “We know they are about to encounter some challenging things so we wanted to teach them how to have the confidence and the leadership skills to deal with whatever they face. We want these 50 kids that participated in this camp to be the leaders in their schools who can step up and help make a difference.”
Kendrick said he and SRO James Sellers got the idea to put together the camp after attending a School Resource Officer conference and learning about similar programs in other parts of the state and country. They specifically wanted to teach character lessons to reinforce what the teachers are also trying to instill in the students during the school year. Additionally, they wanted to immerse the students in an exciting Junior Citizen’s Sheriff’s Academy which allows them to see and experience first-hand what School Resource Officers and Law Enforcement Officers do on a daily basis.
Activities have included meeting a drug-sniffing dog named Kelly and seeing the Sheriff Department’s helicopter. Perhaps a favorite of the week was learning about the Tactical Response Unit and the Crisis Negotiation Team, complete with show-and-tell gear, equipment, and weapons.
Students could not contain their enthusiasm about trying on a ghillie suit to camouflage themselves into the surrounding vegetation, lying on the ground to look through a rifle scope, or talking with each other using the radio headsets used by crisis negotiators.
Developing positive relationships with the SROs is another goal of Camp Journey, especially since some children only have negative impressions of law enforcement due to circumstances in their own family lives or because of negative portrayals in the media.
“As supervisor of the School Resource Officer Unit, building trust and letting our kids know we are here to help and protect them are things I see our SROs work at every day,” Sergeant Kendrick said. “School Resource Officers primary functions include: providing a safe learning environment, fostering positive relationships with students, identifying threats, and solving problems.”
“When a child interacts with the SRO at their school by giving knuckle bumps, talking with them between classes, or helping tie their shoe lace, they see SROs are there to help them,” he continued. “The day-to-day interaction builds trust and relationships. In turn, the child knows if they are ever in danger they can run to us for help.”
Kendrick said the SROs who have helped plan and staff the camp all have a new found appreciation for teachers.
“We all went home that first day completely exhausted,” Kendrick said with a laugh. “Being a teacher is really hard work!”