FRESNO — Realizing that a lot of potential leadership is going down the drain when teen-agers leave school and turn to drugs or crime, city officials and educators want to plug up that drain.
"We want to see if we can save some of the kids who have obvious leadership potential but are considered at risk because of their life styles or the company they keep," said police Lt. John Fries.
Besides being a police officer, Fries is on the city's Drug Task Force, formed last fall to further community efforts in drug abuse prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.
It was the Drug Task Force that came up with the idea of a program to save "at risk" students with leadership potential.
12-13 Age Group Chosen
"We decided to work with 7th and 8th graders because child development experts indicate that the attitudes of kids 12 and 13 can be influenced by meaningful positive experience," Fries said.
What the task force came up with, and Fresno Unified School District administrators agreed to, is a series of one-week school-year camps for selected students from the district's middle schools.
Middle-school students identified as having leadership potential but who are in danger of going astray because of any number of outside circumstances will be chosen to attend one-week sessions at "Camp Esteem" in the mountains east of Fresno beginning next month.
Once at camp, the students will have to follow strict rules, clean up after themselves, keep their living areas neat and do such chores as kitchen duty and camp cleanup.
No Vacation From School
But that is where the similarity to a summer fun camp ends.
"This won't be a vacation from school for these kids," Fries said. "They'll have to put in their time in academic classes and do their homework each evening. It will be an outdoor classroom atmosphere which will be rather pleasant, but it also will be a no-nonsense atmosphere."
He said teachers and camp counselors will be chosen from among Police Department and school district personnel who have proven their ability to motivate youths.
"We'll also use voluntary community leaders and sports figures, including athletes from Fresno State, as motivational speakers at the camps," Fries said. "We hope to choose people who these kids can look up to as role models, people that will gain the kids' respect because of their achievements."
He said all aspects of the program at the camp will be designed to motivate the students.
"What we hope to do is inspire higher achievement from these kids," Fries said. "We want to increase their self-esteem and help them become more confident decision-makers."
Students chosen to attend the camps will be ones identified by teachers as having potential leadership qualities but who, for one reason or another, are in danger of dropping out of school or becoming involved in drugs and criminal activity.
"What we want to do is give these kids every chance to make it and live up to their potential," Fries said. "Some of them come from troubled or broken homes or are hanging around with the wrong element and are on the edge of losing all hope of living up to their potential.
"As the television commercial says, 'A mind is a terrible thing to waste,' and we are going to try to keep that from happening," he said.