PD To Provide "Teaching Moments" To Kids And Teens This Summer

Registration is underway for youth academies

In many places, one might be surprised to see young kids and teenagers jumping at the chance to spend days off from school with police officers. However, every summer, Mahwah’s youth gets excited about just that prospect.

Each year, the Mahwah Police Department and Mahwah Municipal Alliance make their Junior Police and Youth Leadership Academies a little bit bigger, and this year both programs are hitting milestones.

The Junior Police Academy, a two-week day camp open to rising sixth grade students in Mahwah, is celebrating its tenth anniversary year.

“This academy is basically a microcosm of what we go through for six months in the Police Academy,” Officer Joe Horn, an active MMA member and teacher in both summer academies, explained.

JPA activities are focused on law enforcement classes and activities, which in the past have included trips to the Intrepid, Coast Guard, and DEA helicopter lands, and activities like wearing goggles that simulate what perception is like under the influence.

The camp, held at Ramapo Ridge, has grown over the past ten years “from 34 kids in the beginning to more than half of the fifth grade class,” Horn said.

“One of the most important things kids take away from this experience is a relationship with the police officers,” MMA president Carolyn Blake said.

“My daughter was in a car accident, it was very scary. Throughout the whole ordeal, she was so calm and I was amazed. When I asked her why, she said it was because she had known the policeman who responded to the scene of her accident, Officer Curtis, from camp,” Blake said.

“She said, ‘I knew he’d take care of me, so I wasn’t afraid.’ They really do form an important bond.”

As the organizers of these programs explain it, the Youth Leadership Academy, a three-night sleep-away event for seventh-twelfth graders that is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, is the jewel in the programs crown that makes Mahwah’s youth outreach programs different than others.

“I have never seen a program like this in any other town,” said Police Chief James Batelli.

“We have about 180 kids in the YLA, and, whether they know it or not, every single activity they do there, while it may be fun, is geared toward teaching them a lesson about how to be a leader and a responsible young adult,” Horn said.

Horn said YLA students are broken into groups, and asked to work together on various tasks, “kind of like the challenges on ‘The Apprentice.’”

In the past, students have engaged in public speaking events, organized a fundraiser that raised $3000 for three charities of the kids’ choosing, and other team-building, problem-solving activities.

This year, participants can look forward to trying to break a Guinness Book world record and participating in “Minute-to-Win-It” challenges.

“There is a teaching moment in everything we do,” Horn said. “But the kids are having such a blast that they don’t even notice. 

The students also get a sneak preview at college life, staying in the Ramapo College dorms, eating in the cafeteria, and experiencing a bit of independence. This year, Ramapo President Dr. Peter Mercer will address the students, and Officer Horn often writes college recommendation letters for students who have gone through the program.

However, parents need not worry, as genders are separated by floor in the dorms, photos of every day’s events are uploaded to a Facebook page for parents every night, and Mahwah police officers are always on-hand should an incident arise – which Batelli said has never happened in the program’s history.

The ratio of adults to students is 1:15.

Renting a college campus for five days, providing three meals a day for all 180 kids, going on field trips, renting coach buses, providing YLA clothing and a graduation ceremony makes this “a very expensive program,” Batelli said.

“And, we only charge $250 per child. It doesn’t come close to paying for the cost of the camp,” which Batelli says is about $50-60K.

“The cost does not come out of the police budget. The MMA pays for the program through fundraising,” Batelli said.

This year, the MMA is raffling a 2011 GLK 4-Matic Mercedes Benz from the Prestige Motor Company as part of its fundraising efforts. Interested donators can purchase raffle tickets for the July drawing at the Mahwah Sunoco.

“I think the fact that we get so many donations from the community and are actually exceeding our goals, partly because of donations we get from parents whose children have gone through the police camps, speaks to how great these programs really are,” said Sunoco owner and MMA member Bill Laforet.

Batelli credits Mahwah officers who “do not get paid overtime” to run the camp with its success.

“They are so dedicated to it. We actually have to turn officers down who apply to do this, because there is such enthusiasm about it in the department,” Batelli said.

“The program really relies on the passion, blood, sweat and tears of our dedicated officers.”

For Horn and his fellow officers in the Mahwah PD, they feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of young people in Mahwah.

“We are lucky that the Chief continues to fight for this program,” Horn said.

“We help them to achieve what they want to, and give them the tools to do it. It’s a great thing,” Horn said.

Registration for both academies continues through June. Click these links for more information about registering for the and the .

Andy Schmidt May 04, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Some of us have been here long enough to remember when there were still traffic lights on Rt 17 - and when there were farms in Maywood - in what is now the Bergen Mall. Certainly when these were rural areas and everyone knew everyone, live was simpler, monitoring kids was easier and people who didn't belong stood out like sore thumbs. With the steady build-out of all the towns, the ongoing influx of more and more people and a population "explosion" - we all need to adapt our ways to deal with issues differently. What worked for a rural area no longer works for suburbia. We can't live in the past - we have to face the fact that times have changed and be proactive about it. Just like we invest into our physical infrastructur to keep up with increasing demands, we need to invest into the township services so that THEY can keep up with increasing population density, school-age children, higher mobility of everyone (including the bad guys), etc. So... It's not about what "used" to be and about what problems did NOT exist in the PAST - it's about what needs to happen go forward, to MAINTAIN a great quality of life and a super low crime rate in a CHANGED NW Bergen County and the problems that those changes DO bring into town. We can't bury our heads in the sand and hope for the good old times to come back.
Roger Pachiderm May 04, 2011 at 06:59 PM
Saddle River, Upper Saddle River and Franklin Lakes have populations that combined do not have the population of Mahwah. Nor do they have the population density of Mahwah. Did you know that most of Saddle River does not even have fire hydrants? But like Mahwah they also have great schools (even better than Mahwah in Franklin Lakes), incredible park land, excellent services, community programs, good libraries. Taxes are not cheap in these areas either. Mostly because of the lack of significant ratable and a lot less condo developments. Comparing the Mahwah to the 3 is not really fair as they are not similar. However it is hard to argue the value Mahwah provides for middle class and upper middle class families compared to those other boroughs.
Mari Meli May 05, 2011 at 01:01 AM
Any time you get the police force and kids together, thats a good, positive thing. As Mrs. Blake noted, her daughter had confidence in these officers to take good care of her by her relationship with them. We are a strong family community and I am most proud of the way we all look out for one another. The DARE program is just another way that we all stay connected, support that sense of community, and have a positive influence on our kids. I don't see how anyone can find fault with that.
Sue Reardon May 13, 2011 at 03:36 PM
I too believe that the DARE programs are a great asset to Mahwah. I am a stay at home mom, active volunteer in two HSOs, a Girl Scout Leader, a Sports coach, and an active parishoner in my church. I have had many a talk with my daughter about the dangers of the world today, but I have to say... sometimes, no matter how hard we try, the message doesn't reach our children because they think we don't know anything about today's pressures. (I can remember feeling that way about my parents 30+ years ago, can't you?) It is extremely important for children to get information from OTHER trusted adults. (Isn't this why teachers assign homework? so that it reinforces at home, what's been taught in school? Isn't this why sports coaches ask the parents to help their child practice certain skills at home? so that they can get better for their next practice or game? or a Girl Scout/Boy Scout Leader reinforces life/survival skills along with countless other experiences? so that they might become independant leaders of their community? DARE programs, paid for by parents and sponsored by the MMA (btw, isn't the MMA run mostly on donations of members from the community? not taxes?) are EXTREMELY important to reinforce the rights and wrongs that parents teach at home, it doesn't replace the parental lessons. That said, if your taxes aren't being raised to pay for it, and the police are volunteering their time... WHAT DO YOU CARE? Let us better our children in any way we can!
Small Business Owner July 01, 2011 at 02:06 PM
To pull off that massive event last night, it took a tremendous amount of planning, commitment, effort and time. The police leadership deserves all the credit. The best part is that the kids played active roles in all of it. They experienced learning about organization, planning, effort, time sensitivity, coordination, communication and what it takes to do something to be a leader. They are great life lessons and can't really be taught in school. Example of this, when I was at the field last night I saw a kid running and drop a napkin on the ground. I watched a police officer come out of his way to stop the child and have them pick up the napkin. Nobody was around or looking (of course I was some distance away). The police officer just did the right thing. That is what I am talking about. I am impressed and proud of the police department efforts and the running of this camp. Leadership can be learned, observed and experienced and at this age role models are established. These officers are the role models that I want my kids to look up to. Nice job MMA.


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