Jixelys Tapia says she’s always been shy.
So this summer, the Atlantic City 10-year-old decided to go outside her comfort zone and join the Atlantic City Junior Police Academy.
Just one week into the two-week program, she’s seen a difference.
“I have friends and I’m not as shy as I was before,” she said Friday, as the first week came to an end.
In its fourth year, the academy allows a mix of education, physical training and some fun. They even get a day in New York, courtesy of Irish Pub owner Cathy Burke.
On Friday, Detective Garry Stowe taught the kids about drugs, bringing suitcases that show what the different illegal substances and paraphernalia look like, and explaining their dangers, even to those not using.
Fentanyl — used to cut heroin — is “so danger that we as police officers can’t even touch it,” he said, explaining to the kids the importance of not even touching any drugs they may see or find.
Six officers led by Sgt. Monica Coursey run the program, teaching the kids respect and discipline.
“If you listen to them, you won’t get in trouble,” 12-year-old Aisha Hanjra explained.
But “if one person messes up, we all have to pay,” said Melkwan Ponce.
That builds teamwork, Coursey adds in.
“That’s what we learn in real policing,” she said. “Take care of each other.”
And that’s why Melkwan is in the academy.
The 11-year-old wants to be able to lead his 4-year-old brother by example.
Discipline is why 10-year-old E’nya Feliciano is here as well.
“I have some discipline problems,” she admitted. “I wanted to gain discipline and self-control.”
She said the program already has helped in dealing with anger issues, and that she can better work things out with her older brother and younger sister.
And while she’s leaning toward becoming a police officer when she’s older — at least part-time — her “biggest dream is president of the United States.”
Judenaelle Sainvilus, 11, said she’s always wanted to be a police officer: “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Policing is one of Ibn Toulson-Wright’s options, he said.
The others include being an actor, playing in the NBA and baker.
He may add artist to that, after winning a contest among the class for best fire extinguisher drawing, following a Thursday visit from the Atlantic City Fire Department.
After that, the class was off to physical training, keeping in line as Class II Officer Antwone Snead barked orders. As he hovered over the kids keeping them in line it gave a contrast to the fun he has playing basketball with them, video of which has made its rounds online.
But the kids don’t seem to mind.
“It teaches you discipline,” Judenaelle said. “It’s always fun to try something new.”