Future So Bright for 16 Public Safety Cadet Program Graduates

Author: Laura J. Leonard

This June, 16 students from Bertie County Schools graduated from high school, and embarked on  the next leg of a journey that began 18 months ago when they applied to be a part of the inaugural Public Safety Cadet program – an innovative program that aims to help more young residents of Bertie County become employed in the criminal justice field.

These students actually graduated twice: they also received a certificate for Corrections Specialist I and II from Roanoke-Chowan Community College.

Deputy Secretary for Adult Correction Gwen Norville speak with 16 Bertie County High School students as part of the Public Safety Cadet program.“The Public Safety Cadet program has had tremendous success in Bertie County,” said Gwen Norville, deputy secretary for Adult Correction. “These young people have spent countless hours learning, understanding and implementing aspects of the criminal justice field. This means they can get a jump start on an associate’s degree in criminal justice, allowing them to be exceptionally prepared to work in the corrections field.”

The program began as a pilot program in 2015 to complement Army Junior ROTC and Emergency Medical Service cadet programs already operating in Bertie County high schools. It is a collaboration that brings community, business, government and faith-based organizations together to create a pathway for local high school students for careers in public safety.

“The key was for Bertie County high school students – who typically do not have the same opportunities – to have a strong pathway to continue their education,” said Norville. “We partnered with Roanoke-Chowan Community College to offer criminal justice college courses while instilling leadership, and a sense of community in the lives of the cadets.”

Bertie County High School students discuss the Public Safety Cadet program at a career day in May 2016.Under the Public Safety Cadet program, any Bertie County high school student interested in the criminal justice field may apply during their 11th grade. These students study a criminal justice curriculum jointly designed by Bertie County Schools and the Department of Public Safety focused on developing integrity, leadership and support for the community.

While taking standard high school and science-technology-engineering-math courses, these students undertook an additional six college-level courses, geared for adult thinkers. The coursework lasts through their senior (12th grade) year. To remain in the program, the cadets must maintain a 2.50 grade point average. Once they successfully completed the program, the students earned 18 credits toward a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice.

"I enjoyed my experiences in the program,” said Eric Speight. “I learned to work with different people.”

The cadets completed a variety of projects during the program. Some of the projects completed were:

  • Career Day (May 2016): Cadets staffed a recruitment table to tell other students about the program and other aspects about DPS.
  • Correctional facility models: Cadets concluded their 2016 spring semester by planning, designing and presenting models of correctional facilities.
  • Public Safety Day: Public Safety Day: The cadets developed a Public Safety Day for the Bertie County community from concept to execution, which included identifying the agencies that would attend, and creating and giving a presentation to both the DPS leadership and Bertie County commissioners for support.      

A State Highway Patrol trooper speaks to Bertie County High School students as part of the Public Safety Cadet program.

“These students were exposed to the government system, correctional environment, emergency management in action, board meetings and county commissioner meetings,” said Norville. “They had an opportunity to understand the interworkings of criminal justice and local government within their communities.”

The program will continue next year in Bertie County, where for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year, 32 students who showed interest met the GPA requirements. Of those, 16 completed the applications, filling all 16 spots in the program.

The true testament of success: all of the cadets are furthering their education in the fall or joining the military.

“For these students to step out there and be a part of the criminal justice community speaks volumes about their desire to understand more about this world, their community and criminal justice as a whole,” concluded Norville.

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