If you want to get the attention of today's youth, it's hard to beat the visual impact of landing a $6.9 million state police helicopter on a soccer field.
That was just what happed on the final day of HCC's first Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Academy where 15 middle school students spent the first week of August learning the basics of law enforcement from local, state and federal professionals.
Friday was Field Day, which included visits from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms bomb squad, marked and unmarked police cruisers, a motorcycle patrol, a K-9 unit and the helicopter.
"It was awesome," said 11-year-old Noah Lowbel from Hadley, who was able to try on body armor from the ATF truck. "It was all just really cool."
The one-week, intensive, full-day "camp," one of HCC's many summer youth programs, was designed to introduce students to college-level academics as well as career preparation in criminal justice. The program was run by retired Granby police chief Lou Barry, HCC Class of 1973, his son, Mark Barry, a captain in the U.S. Army, and Monica Perez, HCC dean of Social Sciences and a professor of Criminal Justice.
The students participated in daily roll call and physical training, investigated mock crime scenes and took field trips to the Massachusetts State Police Academy and the Notch Visitor's Center in Amherst for outdoor team-building activities on a ropes course.
At an end-of-the-week certificate ceremony, Ludlow Police Chief Paul Madera talked to them about the importance of education in law enforcement.
"Coming into the field today, you have to have a minimum of an associate degree," he said. "Some departments won't even look at you unless you have a bachelor's degree. You make more money with a better education."
Perez said this was the first time HCC has run a summer youth program that combined academics, career path planning and hands-on activities. She said the program was a great success and plans are already underway to repeat it next summer.
Whether or not the students go on to careers in law enforcement, they said they learned a lot and also had a lot of fun.
"I think it's really cool that we get to experience this at such a young age," said 13-year-old Natalie Chanutka, from Whately.
Photos: (Left) Students in HCC's Summer Youth Criminal Justice Academy listen to Massachusetts State Police Trooper Eric Fairchild talk about his helicopter patrol. (Right) Students investigate a crime scene in the HCC Forensics Lab.(Thumbnail) Noah Lowbel tries on body armor from the ATF bomb squad.