In the not-so-distant past, high school students with an interest in criminal justice considered themselves fortunate if they got minimal face time with a law enforcement representative during their high school’s annual career day. These days, Chester County’s aspiring public servants have multiple opportunities their parents never experienced. At Chester County Technical College High School (TCHS), run by the Chester County Intermediate Unit, students in grades 10 through 12 can jumpstart their law-enforcement careers by enrolling in the Criminal Justice & Police Science program. It’s one of nearly two dozen vocational programs that students can pursue.
The teens spend half a day at one of the three campuses that serve the county’s school districts and earn electives needed for graduation, credits that come with hands-on experience, guest speakers, and networking opportunities. For aspiring members of law-enforcement – a field that runs the gamut from police officers to surveillance technicians – the curriculum includes activities that employ surveillance and security techniques, fingerprinting, crime-scene skills, and more.
“We want to position the students to pursue their passions,” said Jim Sharkey, who runs the Brandywine campus criminal justice program with Steve Dintino.
For more than a decade, the Chester County Sheriff’s Office has enjoyed playing a role in that process. Deputy sheriffs make presentations at least once a year at the school, and sometimes students end up visiting the Sheriff’s Office to expand their knowledge of its operations. Joe Carbo, who retired two years ago as a captain for the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, said he welcomed the opportunity when it first presented itself.
“It’s amazing how many people have no idea what the Sheriff’s Office does,” he said, adding that he fell into that category himself until he took a job in the office in 2003. “As a police officer in Tredyffrin, I thought that transporting prisoners was the extent of the Sheriff’s Office responsibilities. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I started working there.”
Carbo said students have reacted positively to learning about the multiple facets of the office, ranging from serving legal papers to securing courtrooms. The exposure gives them another potential job option when they finish school, Carbo said.
Dintino said the criminal-justice curriculum was created to offer students real-world experiences, whether they end up as a correctional officer, a police officer, or a security technician. Evidence that the program’s diverse focus has succeeded: Some colleges even give students credits for some of their high school coursework, Dintino said.
TCHS senior Brody Keeth-Nudy got a boost to his eventual employment search during a recent visit to the office. Keeth-Nudy, who attends Downingtown East, spent an afternoon getting an overview of the office, garnering business cards, and receiving encouragement.
Keeth-Nudy interacted with numerous members of the office, including Chief Deputy Jason Suydam; several members of the K-9 Unit; and Cpl. Joseph Woulfe, who heads the Fugitive Apprehension Unit. Deputy Sheriff William Rosenbaum gave Keeth-Nudy a tour of the Justice Center and accompanied him to one of the courtrooms to observe some summary appeals.“It was great,” he said later. “I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Keeth-Nudy said his inspiration to pursue a career in law-enforcement came from both of his grandfathers. “I’ve always liked helping people,” he said, “and I feel like the world doesn’t have enough people who want to do that.”
Following his upcoming graduation, Keeth-Nudy plans to spend four years in the Army before attending a police academy. Suydam applauded his initiative and urged him to keep in touch.“This is a very competitive field,” Suydam said. “I often ask job candidates if they would be comfortable sharing their Facebook page with me. If the answer is no, that’s a problem. Keep that in mind: If two people have the same qualifications and one has posted something questionable on social media, we’re going to hire the other one.”
The partnership between the Technical College High School and the Sheriff’s Office mirrors the goals of VISTA 2025, Chester County’s 10-year economic development strategy.
County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell jointly noted: “One of the VISTA 2025 strategies in positioning Chester County as a place to attract a multi-faceted workforce is to expand awareness among local youth of the breadth and depth of career opportunities in the county. Cooperative programs with schools such as TCHS provide a wonderful learning experience for the students, but also benefit employers by opening the doors to students, allowing them to make contacts and find out the variety of jobs available here.
“We certainly appreciate the value of this for the good of the whole county, but also, as one of the largest employers in the county, for the good of finding quality employees for Chester County Government departments.”