A group of teens practiced a complex dance routine inside a classroom at Belair Middle School on Wednesday as part of the Pine Bluff Police and Youth Day Camp.
Pine Bluff Police Sgt. Lynn Wright beamed while discussing his job leading the teenage boys at the camp, which began on Monday and continues through Friday, July 18.
“We give our kids something positive to do rather than running the streets,” Wright said of the camp, which costs $75 per child for the entire six weeks. “We (police officers) give kids an opportunity to interact with us in a relaxed positive setting. It shows that we are their friends, as opposed to a disciplinarian.”
Johnathan Callum, 14, credited the camp with helping him learn valuable skills.
“Camp helps us be better leaders. I learned not to be afraid to introduce myself,” said Callum, who will enter ninth grade at Jack Robey Junior High School in the fall. “Sgt. Wright is like a role model. He helps with my social skills so that if I have a problem, I will come to him for assistance.”
Many parents equate police officers with arresting suspected criminals rather than being a resource for their children.
“This camp is a part of improving public relations,” Wright said.
Boys and girls ranging in age from 6 to 16 learn from classroom teachers and police officers. The students take part in discussions on bullying, self-esteem, conflict resolution and character building. In addition, the campers play sports and take field trips to the Little Rock Zoo and the Arkansas Railroad Museum.
Taylor Kreipke, 13, said the experience in her group a positive one. She learned how to work together in a team to resolve conflicts.
“The police officers are teaching us great manners and teamwork,” said Kreipke, who will enter seventh grade at Watson Chapel Junior High School. “The police officers are treating us fairly and with respect.”
Kreipke said she looked forward to an upcoming field trip to an animal research facility.
Officer Shanee Howard brought enthusiasm while leading a group of 6- and 7-year-old girls.
“I won the Spirit Award last year,” Howard said. “We are coming again to defend our title.”
Her husband, Detective Jason Howard, also works at the camp.
“For me, this camp is a family affair,” Shanee Howard said. “My husband is a SWAT (officer). I have two sons and one daughter as campers and another son is a volunteer.
“I love doing the camp because it shows a different side of policing. A lot of time we police have to arrest parents. … [At camp] the kids sees us playing, laughing and showing that we care. That is my main reason for doing this camp,” Shanee Howard said.
Officer Ivory Bickham guided a group of 12- and 13-year-old girls.
“We work to help them become better citizens and be productive during the summer,” Bickham said. “I have an outstanding group of girls.”
During other times of the year, she said the girls find her to share a positive memory and catch up with each other.
Quiana Goodwin, 19, works at the camp as a youth advocate summer worker.
“I think I have more fun than they do,” Goodwin said. “I love going on the field trips with the kids and watching them have fun.
“They learn how to get along and meet new people,” Goodwin said.