High-school class gains new view of police work

With plans to become a defense attorney, Keyera Gainer was quick to sign up for the new Police Science class taught this year by Kent Police officers at Kent-Meridian High School.

Kent-Meridian High School students in the Police Science class include: back row

Kent-Meridian High School students in the Police Science class include: back row

With plans to become a defense attorney, Keyera Gainer was quick to sign up for the new Police Science class taught this year by Kent Police officers at Kent-Meridian High School.

“Not only will it look good on my transcript, but I’m learning more about the criminal-justice system,” said Gainer, a junior, in an interview during a recent class. “It’s really interesting. It’s one of my favorite classes.”

Seventeen students are taking the new course that started in September. The police instructors are Lt. Ken Thomas, Lt. John Pagel and Stacy Judd, a public education specialist.

Senior Chris Foster picked Police Science as an elective course because, he said, it sounded more interesting than other electives. He enjoys the opportunity to discuss current crime stories that students find in local media reports. He’s also learned about police officers during the one-hour, daily classes.

“I’ll take out a lot more respect for the criminal-justice system and respect for police,” Foster said. “It’s the attitude toward police of a lot of high school students that they’re out there to ruin our fun. But that’s really not the case. They have a job to do and they do it pretty well.”

Thomas, dressed in his police uniform, said after a recent class that he decided to teach the course to help build a stronger relationship between officers and teens.

“I work a lot with youth and gang issues in the city,” Thomas said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a positive interaction with kids at school and an opportunity for kids to have a positive interaction with the police department.”

The idea to offer a police class came up a couple of years ago during a discussion between Kent Police and Kent School District officials, said Dave Bilyeu, who oversees career and technical education for the district.

“It was an idea to help get officers from the local community, to build an interest in high school and then to see them come back and serve in Kent,” Bilyeu said. “We saw it as a great opportunity to start offering this type of class.”

A couple of students already have expressed an interest in possibly going into police work, Thomas said. The Kent Police recently started a cadet program for college students that could turn out to be a natural next step for recent high-school graduates interested in police work.

Although students use a criminal-justice textbook, much of the learning comes from discussion of crimes and hearing from guest speakers. Students recently heard from a domestic violence advocate and will hear from judges, prosecutors and detectives.

“We’re trying to provide a good understanding of the criminal-justice system,” Thomas said. “We talk about police, courts and corrections. And we go in-depth on specific criminal laws.”

Students will take a field trip later this semester to the police academy in Burien run by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. Organizers recently took students to see a Valley SWAT vehicle and to explain how SWAT works. Thomas also took the students outside one day to run them through a series of physical tests required for new officers.

“It’s not just about what you get out of a textbook, but real-life experiences from instructors and people who work in the criminal-justice system,” said Thomas, in his 19th year with the Kent Police.

Students will be graded on classwork projects, tests, attendance and a final project.

The reality of the crimes in Kent helps keep the class interesting to Foster.

“They gave us a city map of where all of the car thefts were,” Foster said. “It was shocking to see how often that goes on.”

Thomas, Pagel and Judd trade off teaching the class. They are paid by the school district for the several hours of work they do each week. Judd taught at Kennedy High School in Burien for six years before she joined the Kent Police in 2001.

“I think it’s gone really well,” Judd said of the team-teaching approach. “We have a good mix of personalities and teaching styles. And the students are excited to be learning something different rather than taking electives such as P.E. or art.”

The district will continue to offer the police course beyond this school year as long as enough students are interested in taking the class, Bilyeu said. He said 17 students is a good number for a new class, but a full class of 24 would be even better.

“We’re real thankful we’re able to have a working arrangement with the Kent Police Department,” Bilyeu said. “The officers have the most up-to-date skills. And they have the contacts in the community for information and field trips.”

Students also enjoy an officer as a teacher.

“I like that we are taught by police officers in uniforms,” Gainer said.

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