Pirates are about to discover their inner justice.
For the past year the flagship program that’s gotten the most attention in Flagler schools is Flagler Palm Coast High’s Fire Leadership Academy, which enables students to work toward a career as paramedic-firefighters, locally or elsewhere.
That academy may soon have healthy competition from Matanzas High School, a group of whose students this afternoon presented a proposal for a new law and justice academy, or flagship program, at their school. The program would prepare students for a career in law enforcement or in law. It would also create a sort of hub for law and justice issues that intersect with youths, with the creation—for example—possibly shifting teen court to the school.
So-called flagship programs began emerging in various district schools several years ago as part of a classroom-to-career initiative, matching particular programs in particular schools with local industries or job markets. Rymfire Elementary, for example, focuses on the medical arts and gets sponsorship support from Florida Hospital Flagler. Wadsworth Elementary is into science and engineering. FPC has the fire academy, Bunnell has agriculture, Matanzas has had a banking program, and so on. Programs have been multiplying.
Remarkably for Matanzas, the law and justice program is the brainchild of students themselves. They originated the idea, they’re applying to develop the academy, and today, they submitted their plan, down to budgeting figures and timelines, to the Flagler County School Board, in a workshop.
“This has been a wonderful experience,” a clearly proud Jeff Reaves, principal at Matanzas, told the board as he sat flanked by the students leading the initiative, the core of them representing the Matanzas High School Legal Club—Hunter Perez, Sydney Romero, Anthony Urias, Megan Winter, Sierra Seamon and Madison Kes. “It’s really come very organically and I think that’s a good sign, you’re not trying to force something to happen when it happens from the students up,” Reaves said.
The students have been at it since last October, when they floated the proposal to Reaves and the school’s advisory council, met with agencies that would be involved, including the Sheriff’s Office, the Clerk of Court and the local bar association, spoke with faculty and, as was the case today, submitted the plan to the school board. They’ve also been to a couple of other high schools to watch similar programs in action. The plan is to buy a curriculum by May, prepare teachers in summer, and launch the academy with classes next August.
The law track’s classes would include several criminal justice segments, law studies, Advanced Placement Language and Advanced Placement Government (which are already provided). The justice track would also include the criminal justice segments, writing classes and an industry certification exam, which would then enable students presumably to go on to a police academy.
Students would get real-world experience through teen court (“our goal is to have teen court on campus,” the principal said), have a mock trial team, be involved in Police Explorers—the sheriff’s corps of youths who participate in various law enforcement activities, including ride-alongs, and have certain responsibilities—internships, victim advocacy training and so on.
To remain in the program, students would have to maintain certain academic proficiencies. The students’ proposed budget—which may or may not be entirely realistic—is pegged at $12,000 the first year and considerably less in subsequent years, with existing staff accounting for the necessary faculty.
The school board was impressed, especially, as board member Colleen Conklin put it, by “the fact that it’s so organic and it’s coming from the student body, and it’s being tied to the local economy.” She said the school would be adding new courses anyway, which could then account for the needed new courses within the program. Board member Andy Dance, who participates in a monthly coordinating committee that discusses traffic-safety issues, said the meetings could be moved to Matanzas, where students would be encouraged to take part. (Matanzas students have already made a serious impact on traffic-safety issues in the county.)
The Sheriff’s Office will be donating a patrol car and dispatch equipment and letting its personnel advise students, and the Flagler Education Foundation, the district’s non-profit arm—which helped steered a $25,000 grant from the Paul B. Hunter and Constance D. Hunter Foundation to the fire academy last September—is working to secure funding for Matanzas’s law and justice equivalent.
“I did not know they were going to discuss it today, I wish they’d let me know I’d have done my best to attend,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in an interview this evening. “When I first became sheriff I met with then-Superintendent Jacob Oliva and told him I wanted to develop a criminal-justice program similar to the fire academy. He wholeheartedly supported it, and I also met with the school board chairman, Trevor Tucker, who also supported it.”
Staly said he then met with Jim Tager, the new superintendent, who was also supportive. Comdr. Steve Brandt was assigned to the initiative as was Cmdr. Phil Williams. Originally the program was to have been at both high schools, but since the sheriff already has a CSI initiative at Matanzas, the program seemed like a good fit there.
“My goal there is, it allows us to have potential employees when they graduate higfh school, whether it’s our 911 center or other civilian positions or others who want a career in law enforcement or corrections,” Staly said. “Now we have a pool of potential applicants to choose from.” The program would also net students 12 credit hours toward a criminal justice college degree. And since there already is a curriculum approved through state standards, the initiative “will be pretty much a plug and educate process,” he said.