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McKinney PD Teen Academy Advanced Course Takes Summer Vacation to a New Level

Shane Mauldin|
Monday, August 1, 2016
Marie Nault practices building search procedures with her partner during the 2016 McKinney P.D. Advanced Teen Academy.

Marie Nault practices building search procedures with her partner during the 2016 McKinney P.D. Advanced Teen Academy.

McKinney, Texas – Marie Nault stalks slowly down C Hall at Scott Johnson Middle School, eyes forward, intently scanning the passage ahead. In her right hand, she grips an air soft pistol, and it is up and ready.

Her partner’s hand is on her shoulder, and as he walks backwards, he covers the hallway behind them, trusting Marie’s lead as she guides them forward.

She stops.

“Ok, Marie, you’ve got a closed door on your left. What do you do? What do you need to tell your partner?” McKinney Police Department School Resource Officers (SROs) King and Bailey wait as Marie considers her options.

“Closed door on the left,” she announces quietly, then cautiously reaches forward and tries the handle.

It’s unlocked. She looks to King, unsure of her next move, and he steps forward to walk her through her options.

This is the McKinney P.D. Advanced Teen Academy—new for 2016—and it’s summer vacation on a completely different level. The 20 or so middle school students taking part have all completed the Basic class offered last year and earlier this summer. Today, they’re learning the proper way to search a building, and for now, it’s a reasonably relaxed environment.

A couple of hours later, Marie and her partner—bundled up in protective vests, full face masks and armed with airsoft pistols—burst through the doorway of a darkened classroom. There are cardboard targets, representing both suspects and innocents, to evaluate and deal with as they enter.

Almost immediately they begin taking fire from a hidden assailant armed with an airsoft rifle—one of the high school criminal justice students who volunteered to help out with the academy—and they return fire until their allotted 5 airsoft pellets are spent. Every academy participant gives it a try. The results vary from team to team.

It’s a lot harder than it seems.

“It’s kind of scary, the building searches, because whenever you open the door you don’t expect someone to be there and then they jump at you,” says Marie, who will be a freshman at McKinney Boyd High School this year. “They could have a [rubber training] knife and “slice” you. It’s kind of scary.”

2016 Teen Academy

Riley Thompson walks through building search procedures with a rubber training gun during the 2016 McKinney P.D. Teen Academy Advance course as SRO Bailey and criminal justice student Rosely Segarra look on.

But the Teen Academy is not all thrills and chills. There is a lot of fun to be had as well.

On Tuesday, they’re at Group Dynamix in Carrollton, an indoor ROPES facility, where they tackle exercises that build teamwork, camaraderie and communication skills.

There’s glow in the dark dodgeball and soft-tipped bow and arrow battles. And, multiple elevated ROPES courses with zip lines for the kids to navigate.

The whole point of all of this is for kids to get to know their SROs and to build confidence, communication, problem-solving and leadership skills says McKinney P.D. SRO Sgt. Rodriguez. If kids show an interest in the high school criminal justice program and maybe a career in law enforcement down the road, that’s good, too.

“The goal for this [Advanced Academy] is for the kids who have already shown an interest in the [Basic Academy] to spend more time and be exposed to more police operations,” says Rodriguez as students swoop by on overhead zip lines. “And, hopefully, we’ll bring them into the criminal justice program and then into the Explorer program at the high school level.”

2016 Teen Academy

Teen Academy students participate in a team building exercise at the Group Dynamix indoor ROPES course in Carrollton.

2016 Teen Academy

Dodgeball starts like this…

2016 Teen Academy

…but quickly becomes more interesting.

2016 Teen Academy

Students battle in teams with soft-tipped arrows during the 2016 Teen Academy Advanced course outing to the Group Dynamix indoor ROPES facility.

2016 Teen Academy

Navigating the indoor ROPES course during the 2016 McKinney P.D. Teen Academy Advanced course.

2016 Teen Academy

Students whiz by on zip lines during the 2016 McKinney P.D. Teen Academy Advanced course trip to the Group Dynamix indoor ROPES course.

2016 Teen Academy

Students tackle the indoor ROPES course at Group Dynamix duing the 2016 McKinney P.D. Teen Academy advanced course as Ofc. Self and gt. Rodriguez look on.

2016 Teen Academy

The climbing wall is one of the features of the more advanced ROPES course circuit.

2016 Teen Academy

As is this contraption.

The Basic Academy gave the kids a vast amount of information about the wide range of police operations and procedures. They met K-9 officers and patrol units. They visited the S.W.A.T. training range where they—among other things—tackled the obstacle course, observed a sniper rifle demonstration and experienced the concussive punch of a small flash-bang grenade. They learned firearm safety principles using airsoft pistols, procedures for felony traffic stops and gained knew understanding and a greater respect for the job that our police officers do.

Riley Thompson, who will attend North as a 9th grader this year, took part in the Basic Academy last summer and returned this time around for the Advanced. “We learned a bunch of stuff [in the Basic Academy], but this year has brought it to a whole different level,” he said. “It’s more intense. You’ve got to practice like it’s real.

“Once you see something being thrown at you, or you’re getting shot at, you kind of seize up, but you have to remember what the objective is, what you’re trying to do. It has really opened up my eyes to how tough it is [for police officers].”

Thursday, the final day of the Advanced Academy brings together everything they’ve learned in the Basic and Advanced Academies with a hostage scenario that the students must work together to resolve. They’re divvied up into perimeter teams and assault teams. Some students are assigned to a negotiation detail, and the SROs talk them through their responsibilities.

Once the simulation begins, the students aren’t completely on their own, but the SROs let the kids run the show as much as possible.

Amid the nerve-rattling pops of simulated gunfire, the teams are sent into action, and Marie moves with her group quickly down the SJMS main corridor to a side hallway where they encounter trip wires set up by the “suspect.” The SROs haven’t made it easy for them.

2016 Teen Academy

Marie Nault and her teammates work their way through the challenges of the hostage negotiation scenario on the final day of the 2016 McKinney P.D. Teen Academy Advanced course.

2016 Teen Academy

High school criminal justice students Rosely Segarra and Austin Sommers play their roles in the hostage scenario at the 2016 McKinney P.D. Teen Academy Advanced course.

While the team is still attempting to maneuver around the obstacle, Officer Lee bursts into view at the end of the corridor with hands up shouting, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

Taking advantage of the distraction, a suspect immediately spins around the corner and opens fire on the team with an airsoft rifle.

Most of the frantic return fire pings harmlessly off the wall behind the suspect, but he gives up and the squad moves down the hall and into position outside the hostage room.

Riley has been tasked with the unenviable job of negotiating with criminal justice student Rosely Segarra. Rosely stands in the middle of the room using a “hostage” as a shield, armed with an airsoft pistol and a plastic “grenade.” Behind her are six other hostages.

Riley and his team have to figure out the puzzle of how to get her out of that room without harming the hostages.

Rodriguez feeds Rosely instructions as Riley attempts to establish communication. Riley remains remarkably level-headed, but the team as a whole struggles to put together a cohesive effort, communication breaks down at critical moments and things don’t go as well as they had hoped.

Afterward, there is a debriefing, and Rodriguez, Lee and the other SROs present—Traynham, King, Bailey, Fernandez, Self—talk the kids through the challenges they have just experienced. There are bright spots and praise for proper execution of procedures, but there are certainly areas in which they could have done better.

2016 Teen Academy

Sgt. Rodriguez leads the debriefing following the hostage scenario exercise on the final day of the 2016 McKinney P.D. Teen Academy Advanced course.

Riley reflects on his performance with sober maturity, “The experience was extremely stressful,” he said. “I couldn’t hear much of [Rosely’s] demands, so it was really hard to communicate with her because there was a bunch of stuff going on in the hall. But, it was a learning experience and next time, we’ll not make the same mistake. Communication is extremely important.”

Lesson learned.

McKinney P.D. Deputy Chief Kasmerscki drops by to see how things are going and praises the efforts of the SROs who organized the academies. “Well, first of all you should see the excitement in the instructors. The SROs put a lot of effort into this. They planned out months ago how it’s going to go down. They’ve just done an excellent job,” says Kasmerscki.

But, perhaps the most important question is: Do the kids like it?

“I’ve had a chance to stop in like I did today and [there’s] always excitement, always smiles on their faces. You can tell the kids really enjoy it. There’s no doubt,” says Kasmerscki.

As the students and officers walk from the debriefing room to reset the scenario for the next team, Riley concurs with the deputy chief.

“Heck yeah. It’s awesome. You learn so much. You meet so many new people. The officers are so nice to you. Everything is well-planned, and it’s just so much fun.”

In other words, as far as summer vacation goes…this one will be tough to beat.

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