PARAMUS, NJ -- The first ever Jr. Police Academy in the 96 year history of Paramus concluded Friday afternoon, with a joyous ceremony in East Brook Middle School. Many of the 40 graduates, rising 7th graders from the two middle schools, were eager to share the great experiences they had had during the last five days with Tapinto.
"When I signed up, I was excited [but] I didn't realize how hard it was going to be," said Marissa Kursar, a cheerleader and softball player at West Brook Middle School. "I would recommend it because it pushes you beyond what you knew you were capable of."
Dallas Cacciato, an East Brook student who plays sports year-round said he loved the experience at the academy "but I wasn't expecting to do so many pushups."
"The best things we did were going to the NYPD and watching helicopters land at Floyd Bennett Field," continued Cacciato. "And I made three or four friends through the academy."
State Police officials were present at the graduation, as was a military honor guard, which opened the ceremony. Also in attendance were Mayor Richard LaBarbiera and Councilwoman Holly Tedesco-Santos. Detective Doug Ohlendorf, who organized and built a structure for the academy, served as the master of ceremonies.
"Great job Doug. You made the department shine this week," said Chief Ehrenberg. In addressing the students, Ehrenberg said "I hope this experience has made each of you better students, better sons, better daughters, and better members of our community."
Detective Ohlendorf became emotional when addressing the audience, and raved about the dedication the cadets showed in working hard at their physical activities such as yoga, running and swimming. "They did everything we asked of them, and I think even exceeded their own expectations for themselves."
There was a friendly amount of East-West Brook Middle School rivalry, with the Chief himself divided in his loyalties--his children went to East Brook, but he, himself graduated West Brook. But there was no mean-spiritedness in the long montage of photos and short videos taken over the five day academy that the organizing Police personnel made, set to a soundtrack of 'You're the Best Around,' 'Hell's Bells,' 'Eye of the Tiger' and, fittingly, 'School's Out for Summer.'
"This group will always be known as the first group of graduates. You have set the bar, you set the standard," said Mayor LaBariera. "I'd also like to thank the parents. A lot of people might not buy into this type of program, so you should be commended."
Indeed, they did. Dallas Cacciato's mother, Debbie said, "I was excited by the program. I was impressed with what they told us they were going to do, because he's a year round athlete, he's competitive, but this is a more outside-the-box thing for him..the slideshow that Officer Fox put together, what they did was so intense and special, I was blown away."
Mayor LaBarbiera also spoke of the importance of community policing in making residents feel safe, and empowering police to truly feel like part of the community.
"What I learned from the program is you have to take responsibility for your own actions, you can't rely on your parents or elders, you have to do things for yourself," said Anne Joyce, a West Brook student who used the opportunity the academy offered to she make friends from East Brook. "We didn't leave anybody behind. When one person did pushups, we all did."
Jenna Olson, also from West Brook, stressed it's a great way to make friends, and test one's skills, and said she would encourage younger students to enroll in the academy next year.
"I [signed up for the academy because I] saw the police at my school and was interested in what they do and seeing what they do to become a police officer," said Megan Jones who dances, and plays middie in lacrosse. "On our trips and activities, we saw things that not a lot of people will get to see."
"I'm a type 1 diabetic so trying to figure out how to keep my blood sugar up was important to me. I didn't want to miss out on anything, and the police officers there were so helpful." Jones' favorite experience was going to the Bergen County Jail and seeing the K-9 unit, on Thursday.
The program Friday ended with a presentation of Outstanding Recruit Award, given to Joel Mason, who Detective Ohlendorf praised for consistently arriving early and inspiring his fellow cadets to stay late to help clean up after trainings and demonstrations.