Milton Hershey School High School Students Work with Pennsylvania State Police to Solve Matters Affecting Teenagers
For more than 110 years, Milton Hershey School students have been encouraged to use their voice to advocate for themselves and those around them. Recently, 43 MHS high school students in the Law, Public Safety, and Security Career and Technical Education pathway were invited to participate in a Disproportionate Minority Contact Youth and Law Enforcement Forum with the Pennsylvania State Police Academy. As a part of this forum—which serves as a portion of the training for cadets at the PA State Police Academy—students were given the space to share their past interactions with police, issues that are affecting teenagers today, and any questions that they have about the profession.
This youth forum began in 2018 as a collaborative effort between the academy, which is located locally in Hershey, PA, and MHS Law, Public Safety, and Security instructor and former PA State Trooper, Paul Gaspich. It was originally created as a proactive approach to reduce the rates of arrests for minority youth by training police to recognize cultural and developmental differences between adolescent and adult behavior. Additionally, the forum improves relationships between youth and law enforcement and gives students and soon-to-be state troopers the ability to connect on a personal level.
“The forum approach gives MHS students, who may have never had an in-depth opportunity to speak to an officer in the past, the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations. It also provides cadets, who may not live in the diverse communities they will serve across the Commonwealth, the opportunity to learn about the lives and challenges of young people from diverse backgrounds,” shared Gaspich. These deeper conversations allow both the future troopers and MHS students the opportunity to see each other as individuals—an approach which has been shown to reduce unconscious bias.”
Many of the MHS students who participated this year saw this as an opportunity to use what they’ve learned through their life experiences and The Compass Project—the MHS character and development curriculum. A number of these students were encouraged by not only their ability to use their voice, but by how many of the cadets and instructors listened to what they had to say.
“We had the opportunity to get to know the cadets on a personal level,” shared Erika Seymore, MHS sophomore. “Not only did we get to let our inherit biases go, but we got to dismantle some of the stereotypes of teenagers while also coming up with some real-life solutions, like how to use body language.”
Due to the diverse group of students MHS serves from across Pennsylvania and surrounding states, the conversations at the forum were enriching for both the students and the cadets. Some of the topics covered in the panel discussion and breakout sessions included personal stories from MHS students involving previous interactions with police officers, what could have gone differently, and how things can change for the future.
“When we first got to the academy, I was hesitant to engage because of my own negative experiences with law enforcement,” shared Candie Kolleh, MHS sophomore. “After getting to talk to them, I saw that we were all there to solve the same issues.”
Many of the cadets—who were able to participate in these engaging conversations—were deeply impacted by the stories the students shared and how their role can have such profound outcomes on a child’s life.
“The forum impacted me in a really positive way. I never thought that police officers or anyone in the criminal justice system would had the opportunity to come together in a positive way and communicate with civilians or teenagers to learn from one another,” shared Osayomwonbor Algbedo, cadet at the PA State Police Academy. “Everything that we talked about will definitely help to inform my decisions once I’m in the field, and ultimately, will help me to be a better law enforcement officer.”