GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - What's the life of a police officer really like? Sixteen students from Gulfport High School got an in-depth answer to that question Wednesday as they shadowed Gulfport Police.
After an introduction from the police chief, the mayor, and other elected officials, the real classwork began. Handling a weapon, and then using it inside a simulator. Each test was more difficult and showed the potential danger in any encounter.
For the students, this is no ordinary classroom.
"I get a new experience every day and I see things that not a lot of people get to see. It's very rewarding," Tishell Ruiz said.
This hands-on learning experience gives the students a new appreciation for the police. Just ask student Jalisa Keyes.
"Last year, I came here and I saw what they were doing," Keyes recalled. "You see a lot of bad stuff about police officers on the media and then you actually come here and get to know them and see what they do. It's like they really love their jobs."
For some of the students, this interest in law enforcement has just developed over the course of the past couple of months. For others, it goes back to their childhood days and cartoon heroes.
"First thing I said was that I wanted to play Batman," Eric Camp said. "And then I started getting older and I started saying I want to step up from Batman and be more mature and be a police officer. That would be like the next step in my life."
Seeing the enthusiasm in the students eyes may mean a bright future for law enforcement in the city.
"It's invigorating to hear young people talk about wanting to be in public safety," Police Chief Leonard Papania said. "There's such a negative national sentiment with law enforcement right now, but to really see the realities in our community and the positive attitude of our kids is just a great feeling."
The career path program between the city and the school district began last year. Right now, there are a total of 33 students enrolled in the program. Twenty are learning the ropes at the police department, while 13 others are job shadowing at the Gulfport Fire Department.