Dressed in protective gear and armed with a powerful rifle, Kent Police Officer Ian Warmington immediately grabbed the attention of his young audience.
Real cop stories, actual videos and close-up demonstrations are a hit with inquisitive teens.
“I’m interested in law, but I definitely have a lot of respect for police officers and the criminal justice system in general,” said Emilio Torres, the senior class president at Kentridge High School, following a 45-minute workshop with Warmington on Monday morning.
“This was very interesting,” Torres said, “and I got to ask a lot of questions that I always wanted to ask.”
Warmington’s engaging workshop, Inside the Job of a Police Officer, took some by storm. It was one of the many discussions Kent-area high school students had with peers representing their actual line of work during the 29th annual Game of Life Youth Conference at Kent Commons.
About 70 high school students participated in the full-day gathering that broached such topics as respect, leadership, drug and alcohol addiction, human trafficking, personal safety, self-esteem, social media, distracted driving and community involvement.
More than 120 Kent-area middle school students took in the conference Tuesday.
The Kent Police Youth Board (KPYB), a group of diverse teens dedicated to community leadership, organized the conference and chose which issues to explore. Kent Police and the Kent Drug Free Coalition supported the event.
“This is one of my favorite (events),” said Dana Ralph, Kent City Council memeber, mayor-elect and KPYB volunteer who has long been a champion for public safety and community engagement.
The conference is effective, Ralph and KPYB organizers explained, because it allows kids the opportunity to select challenging issues that matter to them and facilitate conversations with each other and area experts.
“I hope they look at themselves, the decisions they make as students and (select) healthy choices that will benefit them down the road,” said Stacy Judd, Kent Police community education coordinator. “I hope that they learned bits and pieces from all those workshops and apply it their lives to make good choices and to make themselves safe.”
As Torres realizes, teens better connect with each other and have a stronger understanding of the issues facing their peers and themselves. The conference made that possible. Student leaders like Torres will take what they learned at the conference back to their schools.
“It makes a lot of high schoolers think about things that they wouldn’t normally,” he said.