A new kind of “motivational poster” has been appearing in the classrooms and hallways at Austin’s Murchison Middle School. These posters bring character education to life by swapping out stock images with real people from the community.

It is all part of American Police Officer, a course in character education sponsored by the Junior Police Academy. 

“To truly inspire good character, you have to put kids in the room with it,” said Phillip LeConte, JPA Executive Director and author of the course.  “Over the past twenty years, the Junior Police Academy has been doing just that – proactively bringing young people into proximity with law enforcement professionals. 

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Through the course, students gain a better understanding of how good character is the foundation of a safe and just community.

“We introduce young people to real life examples of good character,” said course instructor Officer David Powers of the Austin ISD Police Department.  ‘It has been an outstanding benefit not only to the students but also to the citizens who have visited the classroom to share their story. I think this is the best thing happening in the school district right now.”

The course explores good character – first through the eyes of American law enforcement, then through the life experiences of a wide range of local citizens. “The course gives students ways to put good character to practical use,” said Kelly LeConte JPA Program Director, “inspiring them to be informed and productive citizens.”

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Each day students learn a new character trait as represented by a member of the community whose life or accomplishments exemplify its meaning.  “The course gives exceptional members of the community a kind of shorthand or outline as to what they should speak to young people about,” said Phillip LeConte. 

“Having traveled to Junior Police Academy programs across the country, it was not uncommon to find the most extraordinary law enforcers and citizens struggle with making their profession relevant to kids. Of course, the answer always lies beyond job descriptions or skills sets. This course drills down to those core competencies of courage, diligence, etc.”

“We are so grateful to the many citizens who have taken the time to visit the classroom this semester and share their insights into good character,” said Kelly LeConte, sister to Phillip.  “As many of these guests are selected by the students themselves, I think some of our speakers will look back in wonderment that being recognizing for good character remains one of their greatest moments of pride.”

Thanks to Year-One Guest Speakers who helped define the program:

  • Cadets Colin and Parker Wilson of the Murchison Middle School Junior Police Academy (Austin, Texas)  asked their grandfather Alton Wilson to speak to the class about the good character trait “integrity”. Wilson shared with the class his experiences in the Air Force, where the he first learned the broader implications of “integrity.”
  • Andrew Mellon spoke to the Cadets about Honor, his career in the Marine Corps and his current position with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
  • Chief Eric Mendez of the Austin ISD Police Depatment spoke to the cadets about “Dependability.”
  • Virginia Potter and Nichole Aston of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation spoke to the cadets about the importance of “Generosity.”
  • Cadet Nathaniel Schrobilgen asked his father Daniel Schrobilgen to speak to the class and share his insights into “generosity”.
  • Murchison Middle School teacher, Daniel Shane was asked by Cadet Elliott Perrin to speak on Enthusiasm.
  • James Young, DOSS Elementary School teacher talked to the cadets about overcoming adversity at the invitation of his son, Michael Young.
  • Scott Harralson of Lattice Engines spoke to the cadets on Integrity.  He was invited by his son, Callum.
  • Officer Rodney Anderson, Sgt. Beverly Freshour, Lance Cox and Pamela Waugh also spoke to the Cadets about their jobs with Austin ISD Police Department.

Forget “Pomp and Circumstance.”  The theme song at one graduation at West Austin’s Murchison Middle School was the theme from the police show “Cops” beginning with the familiar “Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do?  What you gonna do when they come for you?”

That’s because the students who walked across the state at this May 28 event weren’t seniors.  They were cadets from the school’s Junior Police Academy, a national program created to “motivate young people to be outstanding citizens through law enforcement education.”

“It’s fun,” said AISD Officer Patricia Montemayor, better known as “Officer P,” of the JPA class she’s been teaching at Murchison for years.

“Opening a book is one thing.  But teaching them how things work is another.”

Friends and family who gathered in the MM’S library to celebrate this year’s graduation ceremony also got a chance to hear from some of the key players in the JPA program.  Executive Officer Phillip LeConte, who founded the program in honor of his police officer dad who, with his friends, cared for and inspired him when he was growing up.

“When I was young I used to get pulled over by the police all the time,” he joked, as he described how his dad and his officer friends became his friends and mentors by checking in and checking up on him.

He paraphrased Ernest Hemingway to describe the relationship he experienced.

“The world is a fine thing and it’s worth fighting for,” he said.  “And I was that fine thing that they shifted focus to fight for.”  Then he turned toward the graduating cadets to tell them, “Now, you are those fine things.”

“They are our future,” said Officer P.  If we can keep them safe that’s what we’re here for.”

And even though she won’t have the chance to teach her cadets next year, she hopes they’ll use the law lessons they’ve learned in her class to help her keep the community and school safe in the future.

“I hope all my JPA cadets have a safe summer,” said Officer P.  But if anything comes up, you know what to do!  Next year I want you to be my eyes and ears on campus.”

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