The Star-Herald

Children receive special visit from law enforcement, state representative

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A pair of local police officers and a state representative visited an early childhood education center Friday to learn more about the program and to let a group of 3-5-year-olds get acquainted with them. 

Chief Deputy Shawn Gillen of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, Presque Isle Police Chief Matt Irwin, and local state Rep. Trey Stewart visited with students in the Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center Early Childhood Education program.

They also took a tour of the program’s Head Start classroom, operated by the Aroostook County Action Program, and participated in a special storytime with the children.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to interact with the children and show them that police officers are human beings just like them and that we’re not always the bad guys that they see on T.V.,” Gillen said.

He and Irwin are two of more than 5,000 members of law enforcement throughout the country that are part of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization that advocates for smart investments in America’s children. Both officers agreed that interacting with the children was a good way to educate them about law enforcement at an early age and help them feel less intimidated when they are around police officers.

The morning’s events began with Gillen, Irwin and Stewart reading to the youngsters from the book, “Officer Buckle and Gloria,” which tells the story of a police officer named Officer Buckle and his police force dog Gloria. The book emphasizes lessons about how police officers keep communities safe. The children gazed excitedly at the men and had many questions for the officers after the reading.

“Why do police officers always rescue people if they get in a car accident?” asked 5-year-old Head Start student Bailee Bard.

“So we could help them get to a doctor if they’re hurt,” Irwin said.

The three men also took a tour of the Head Start facility, which operates under a partnership between PIRCTC and ACAP.  Presque Isle High School senior Taylor Fletcher has been part of the Early Childhood Education Center for two years. Through the program, she said she has worked practically every day with Head Start children and developed real-life work experience that supplements what she learns in the classroom.  

Fletcher also has earned nine college credit hours through the program that will transfer into the early childhood degree program of her choice.

“The program has been great for me because I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned from class and apply those skills here,” Fletcher said.  

Sue Powers, senior manager for early care and education at ACAP, said that the SAD 1 School District and PIRCTC formed a partnership with ACAP two years ago that allows ACAP to operate the Early Childhood Education Center at Presque Isle High School.  PIRCTC educates and trains students in early childhood education and allows them to practice those skills with the Head Start students.

“ACAP looks at this partnership as an opportunity to train a future workforce of early childhood educators,” Powers said. “Having Head Start here allows high school students to practice classroom set-up and daily lesson planning, as well as meal service and playground interaction time. It is a win-win for ACAP and PIRCTC but more importantly for the preschoolers and high schoolers involved.”

Head Start is a comprehensive preschool program for children aged 3 to 5 who come from income eligible families. ACAP’s Head Start center at Presque Isle High School operates five days a week for six hours each day of the school year. The program’s purpose is to help children develop goals that prepare them for further public school education. Those who would like more information about ACAP’s Head Start program can contact Powers at (207) 768-3045 or spowers@acap-me.org.

During their Gillen, Irwin and Steward smiled as they observed the high school students play with the Head Start children.  Irwin was grateful for the chance to meet the children and give many of them their first exposure to law enforcement.

“This is a really good program that gives children a healthy start in school and a visit like this can help them make greater connections to their community,” Irwin said.  

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