While most high school girls in grades ninth through 12th were out of town or relaxing during their recent spring break, nearly 30 were exploring possibilities for their future in public safety careers at the second Mesa Aspire Academy.
Aspire, which Mesa branched off the Camp Fury experience in Tucson, was conducted at Mesa’s public safety training facility for both city police and fire professionals, 3260 N. 40th St. in Mesa The girls stayed overnight on campus for the four-day camp, March 12-15.
“We offer them showers, locker rooms, breakfast, lunch and dinner, etc., and they have a full graduation ceremony at the end,” said Capt. Michelle Denton, a paramedic with the Mesa Fire and Medical Department.
The academy is for girls 14 to 18 years old. They must fill out an application and then there’s a selection process. Each academy class is made up of 25 to 30 girls with five leaders that went through the first camp last year.
“What we’re noticing is women account for a small percentage of employees in public safety,” said Sgt. Diana Williams, public relations spokesperson for the Mesa Police Department. “We have to start educating and looking at girls at a young age to start, around 14 years, so they can get a glance into this job and see what it’s all about.”
At a cost of $125, Mesa partners with the Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pine to try to help those interested in the experience and they offer financial assistance for girls who fear they cannot afford the camp.
“A lot of times, people see programs and think it’s not for them, or see a price factor and don’t want to ask their parents for the money,” Williams said. “I don’t want that to discourage them and I highly recommend that if they are interested in public safety they look in to it. There should be no financial barrier or anything to prevent a girl from going through this camp if she is interested in public safety as a career.”
Williams said Aspire Academy offers “motivation, education and building lifetime skills” for the girls.
“These are skills they will have forever,” she said. “People don’t understand it unless they go through it. A camp counselor stays with them throughout the academy.”
Williams said the partnership with the Girl Scouts will cover a girl’s membership if they apply for Aspire Academy.
“The challenge is to get these girls interested in non-traditional career fields,” said Cmdr. Sherry Burlingame of the Mesa Police Department. “We want to recruit from the community to attract women and expose them to other women in police and fire career fields here to help them learn the skills, and that they can do it.
“Once they understand they can do anything they put their mind to, we start seeing that transition,” she continued. “We have great stories that come out of (Aspire Academy). We are teaching fundamental life lessons here and to do the job you love. The bulk of the girls who came here last year met girls their age with similar interests and said it changed their entire perspective on life. So, this is an impactful program.”
Burlingame said they hope to grow Aspire Academy next year to add shorter camps for girls ages 11 to 15, and 18 to 21 years old.
Those in this second graduation class were really inspired by their experience.
“I’m here because I just want to learn about the jobs in public safety that are available to me,” said Mesa resident Annika Hoglund, 14. “I know I want to go in to public safety, probably medical and fire, and this changed my life and how I will pursue that career.”
Codi Kozloski, 17, of Gilbert, had the same story.
“For the past three years, I’ve wanted to be a cop and (Aspire Academy) was recommended to me so I’m excited to learn more about what goes in to being a cop and get a deeper understanding of that career,” Kozloski said. “We’ve learned so much about fire so maybe I want to be an EMT before becoming a cop. Going through this is giving me more options and I get to ask women officers what I should do to prepare for college and future classes.”
For Girl Scout camp information, visit www.girlscoutsaz.org and type in: “Aspire Academy.” For more complete information on Aspire Academy, contact Jburks@girlscoutsaz.org or Kimberly.Scott@mesaaz.gov.
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.