Part 1: Bringing a Message of Hope to Students
Junior Special Agents from Bucknell Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia tour the U.S. Capitol.
Twenty years ago, the FBI began a program to help kids steer clear of drugs and gangs while learning core values that would make them good citizens. Since the Adopt-A-School Program was established in 1994, special agents and other FBI employees have volunteered thousands of hours to make a positive impact on young people around the nation.
The Adopt-A-School Program identifies schools in disadvantaged communities—where kids may face greater exposure to gangs, drugs, and criminal activity—and sends Bureau employees there to be tutors and mentors.
“This is a great program that can have a profound influence on young people,” said Special Agent Paul Geiger, chief of the Community Relations Unit at FBI Headquarters in Washington. “We teach students that despite any hardships they may be facing now, if they work hard and make the right decisions, they can accomplish anything they want with their lives.”
The Adopt-A-School Program contains different components aimed at specific age groups. The Junior Special Agent Program, for example, is directed at fifth- and sixth-graders. A mentorship program is aimed at second- and fourth-graders, and the Future Agents in Training Program is for high school students between the ages of 16 and 18. Depending on the component, Bureau employees may visit schools once a week for several months, or every other week for an entire school year.
“It’s all volunteer on the part of FBI employees,” Geiger explained, “and there is no cost to the taxpayer because funds needed for field trips and other items are typically raised through our Citizens Academy Alumni Associations.” (See sidebar.)
In the last fiscal year—October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014—28 FBI field offices had active Adopt-A-School programs, and more than 800 students nationwide graduated from Junior Special Agent programs.
The Washington Field Office, located near FBI Headquarters, has one of the largest—and oldest—Adopt-A-School programs. This year, community outreach specialists there are administering the program to six different schools in the region, and more than 300 young people are participating.
“We have a curriculum with core blocks of instruction that integrates with what the kids are learning in the classroom,” said Special Agent William Woodson. “Students also learn about what the men and women of the FBI do—from bomb techs and SWAT teams to evidence collectors and investigators.”
“We teach our junior special agents about the dangers of gangs and drugs, about cyber-bullying, and how to stay safe online,” Woodson added. “We teach them core values like honesty, integrity, and responsibility.” Fitness is also an important part of the program, and before they graduate and become junior special agents, students must pass a fit test.
During the school year, youngsters in the Washington Field Office program are taken on field trips to the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and nearby Civil War sites. “The trips are fun but also educational,” Woodson explained. “We are not going to an amusement park. We are doing things that are educational.”
He added that for many of the students, who come from difficult socio-economic backgrounds, the field trips are a rare privilege. “Even though some of these kids live only a few miles from downtown Washington, they might never see the Capitol or the White House if not for this program.”
Fundraising for a Worthy Cause
Each of the FBI’s field offices around the country sponsors Citizens Academy classes to teach business, civic, and religious leaders about the FBI. Upon graduation from the program, many participants choose to join a local Citizens Academy Alumni Association to further serve their communities.
The alumni associations are non-profit groups that work with the FBI to promote safer communities through educational and service projects such as the Adopt-A-School Program. Last year, the Washington Field Offices’ Alumni Association chapter raised thousands of dollars to benefit the Adopt-A-School Program and other projects.
The Junior Special Agent Program aims to give fifth- and sixth-graders the information, skills, and discipline they need to stay away from gangs, drugs, and crime. Along the way, students learn about the FBI and the ways in which law enforcement helps to serve and protect their communities.