'Completely Unique' Academy Graduates Largest Class Yet
Program run by Mahwah police officers for township students is the only one of its kind in the tri-state area, organizers say
The 198 Mahwah students who graduated from the 2012 Youth Leadership Academy Friday afternoon were part of what Mahwah Sgt. Rob Curtis called the biggest, “most extraordinary,” group of graduates the program has seen yet.
The YLA, a 5-day sleep-away leadership academy held each summer at Ramapo College, is run by Mahwah Police Officers through the Mahwah Municipal Alliance. Throughout the academy, participants are broken into teams who compete in 10 challenges that Curtis said tests their abilities to problem solve, work together and lead one another.
Each year, the participants also complete a capstone project. This year, students ran a used shoe drive to benefit the Nike Reuse-a-Shoe program, which grinds up old sneakers and reuses the material to make playgrounds, basketball courts and other athletic facilities.
According to Police Officer Joe Horn, who helps run the Academy with Curtis and about 15 other officers, the YLA started, “because we had so many kids graduating from our Junior Police Academy wanting to continue on with us. There was really a demand for us to develop a program for older kids.”
Six years later, the program, which accepts rising eighth through twelfth graders, has “had such an impact on so many kids’ lives.”
“This program is so unique,” Curtis added. “There is nothing like it in New Jersey, nothing like it in the tri-state area, and we have only found one other leadership academy run by a police department, and that’s down in Rhode Island.”
The crux of the program, he said, is the relationship participants form with the township’s police officers, who are not paid overtime to run the camp. “These guys are volunteering their extra time, and they work just as hard as the kids do here,” Curtis said after the graduation ceremony Friday. “They do it because they love it.”
Working with each team on the 10 challenges they face throughout the 5-day academy, officers, “are able to provide guidance while still encouraging kids’ ideas and innovations,” he said.
At Friday’s ceremony, the teams who earned the most points for challenges they participated in throughout the week were given trophies. Awards were also handed out for students who exhibited achievement, spirit, exemplary leadership, and the ability to “breakout” of their shells.
Before sending the sixth graduating class back home with their families, Curtis thanked them for participating in the program, and pointed out to them what they achieved over the preceding five days.
“During your time here, you have shown me how great you are,” he told the graduates. “I hope you can see it in yourselves.”