Public Safety Cadet Program earns praise

Published 10:26 am Tuesday, October 9, 2018

WINDSOR – Bertie County’s Board of Commissioners got some good news at their October monthly meeting here Monday when Rhonda Hendricks, Career Readiness Coordinator for Adult Corrections with the NC Department of Public Safety, informed the group about the ongoing success of the Public Safety Cadet Program offered at Bertie High School.

The corrections program is one of three offered by Bertie County Schools (the others being US Army ROTC and Emergency Medical Services). The curriculum is designed to lead to a career path with the NCDPS Corrections Department. The program was developed jointly by the school system, community leaders, the Governor’s Office, and DPS.

The pilot program is aimed at keeping more young residents of Bertie County employed and near home and at developing a well-trained and eligible workforce for one of the county’s largest employers, Bertie Correctional Institution.

The program was first introduced back in 2015 at the Bertie County Schools convocation by community leaders and DPS officials with a video message from then-Governor Pat McCrory. The first class of 16 students in the program started in January 2016.

“We’ve been assisting the high school and giving them support to the program for cadets now for three years,” Hendricks said.

2018 marked the third graduating class of cadets and according to Hendricks all graduates were doing well, though she did not reveal how many were employed with DPS.

“Each graduating class is 16 seniors and now we have our third group of 16 and they’re really doing well,” she added.

Hendricks had personal praise former cadet and Bertie native Robert Russell, one of the earliest cadet graduates of the program. Russell graduated from Bertie High and Roanoke-Chowan Community College, after which he enrolled at the NC Justice Academy in Salemburg where he received his certification in August as a corrections officer and has been hired at the Bertie Correctional Institution.

“I went to his graduation, and his family was there,” Hendricks related. “They were just really, really happy that he has this opportunity. I reminded him then not to forget about us, and he said ‘No, ma’m, I’m coming’.”

Russell, she revealed, did not immediately find work with DPS, but she had much acclaim for his perseverance.

“Now he has his eyes on outside law enforcement,” Hendricks stated. “So it’s possible he may wind up with a police department; but we have him for right now, and I think he’ll do quite well.”

Hendricks also cited other cadet grads: one in the Criminal Justice program at Elizabeth City State University and another in the two-year Criminal Justice program at Roanoke-Chowan Community College.

“You’re seeing success with them, and we’re really excited,” she said.

She saved her best comments for the council group and their contribution to the program’s success.

“I want to say thank you for your support because you have all been there throughout the whole process to get the program going,” she said. “I just want you to know we’re still going strong.”

Hendricks said despite losing program founder and Deputy DPS Secretary Gwen Norville last year, the cadet program at Bertie is on firm footing. Norville, who passed away following a brief, untimely illness, started the cadet program at Bertie High to inspire students to consider careers in corrections and law enforcement.

“We’ve actually expanded the program,” Hendricks explained. “(Students) are now going to attend both fire safety and EMT classes in their second year after studying Criminal Justice in their first year.”

Hendricks said career opportunities were abundant for graduates; including work with Emergency Management, the Highway Patrol, Alcohol Law Enforcement, and even the National Guard.

“We’ve got so many facets of public safety we’re able to expose our students to; it’s not just service, there’s other exposure,” she said.

In addition to currently just Roanoke-Chowan Community College, Martin Community College, in Williamston and Windsor, will be providing curriculum beginning in fall 2019, according to Hendricks.

“I know these kids are going to get the best,” she noted. “I really do.”

Commissioner John Trent praised Republic Services and Perdue Farms for contributing to the program, along with members of his own family.

“That was some $17,000 over a matter of weeks to get this program started,” Trent said. “We’re using the guys we’ve got. These are the kids who are going to go out do positive things and keep other kids out of court.”

Commissioner Ron Wesson, a vice-president with the MidEast Commission, said he’s floated the idea of whether grant funds are available to aid the employment of those youth until they are able to enroll in a higher education criminal justice program.

“Something that might aid them in going directly into a community college, or go into a work situation conducive to bridging the gap until they receive further training,” Wesson said. “There may be a lot of ways to help these kids.”

Commissioner Tammy Lee praised those who have come behind Norville and kept up the cadet program. She noted a scholarship is available to cadets in Norville’s honor, not just based on grades, but also on financial need.

“Certainly we all miss her,” Lee said. “But thanks to you for making it through what I know has been a very tough year.”

Finally, Hendricks said the cadet program is sponsoring ‘Trunk or Treat’ on Halloween evening (5 – 7:30 p.m.) at the Bertie Schools’ Central Offices parking lot (old Bertie High School). Interested persons are invited to decorate the trunks of their vehicles, with prizes to be awarded.

Any Bertie County high school students interested in the criminal justice field may participate as Public Safety Cadets during their 11th and 12th grade years.  These students will 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.

Successful completion of the high school course work in the cadet program will provide credits toward an associate’s degree in criminal justice at Roanoke-Chowan Community College or Martin Community College. After completing the cadet program and earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice, students will be exceptionally prepared to begin working as a correctional employee in the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.