Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

FBI points to right path through junior agent program at Madison Middle

TAMPA

As witnesses to narcotic sales and the arrest of loved ones, some students at Madison Middle School are all too familiar with the work of law enforcement.

Now, a few of them have been chosen by teachers and federal agents to see the work from the other side.

Through the FBI's Junior Special Agents Program, 20 students are selected each year in the Tampa area to learn about the discipline, information and skills a law enforcement career requires — lessons that can help keep them on the right path in life, too.

Founded in 1990 by the FBI's Washington Field Office, the program has operated 11 years in Tampa. It runs for seven weeks — time enough, the sponsors hope, to help balance what can be a lifetime of bad influences.

Madison Middle student Aleah Sealy was 9 when police raided her house and found guns stashed underneath it, she said. She has seen people close to her do drugs and came to view it as okay, even watching as they sold them out of a back yard, she said.

"They'd do weed, Xanax, pills, stuff like that," said Aleah, now 15. "I always thought it was a normal thing."

Madison Middle is at 4444 W Bay Vista Ave. in largely white South Tampa, but the school's attendance zone stretches into neighborhoods in east and northwest Tampa to bring racial balance to its enrollment of 629. Black students account for 23 percent of the enrollment at the school, Hispanic students 45 percent.

Angel Lopez, 13, is also attending the FBI program and said he's seen students smoke marijuana on school grounds then spend their days planning to smoke more later. It's not as bad now as it used to be, Angel said.

He's been searched for drugs on campus a number of times.

"They didn't find anything. I think the only reason why cops are doing that is because kids have always been doing it and they're just used to it. Once they see someone sleepy or smelling a little awkward, they're gonna suspish something."

Angel said he stays away from trouble once he leaves school, though it's always around him.

"I just do my homework and stay home," he said. "Since I live around a bad neighborhood, I just want to stay home."

So do many other Madison Middle students, he said — a view echoed by Stephanie Hawkins, the guidance counselor at Madison Middle who oversees the school's Junior Special Agents Program.

"If they go out there, there's stuff out there," Hawkins said. "They don't want to go down that path."

Aleah and Angel have a low opinion of the police, saying they seem to target people based on the color of their skin. That's not necessarily surprising to those who work in the field.

"Many of these students are used to seeing law enforcement in a traumatic situation," said Paul Wysopal, special agent in charge of FBI Tampa Division. "This is an opportunity for us to bridge the gap, show these students we care, that law enforcement can be their ally,"

One way is to show them how law enforcement works.

Students in the Junior Special Agents Program took a field trip to the FBI headquarters Feb. 8. A member of the FBI's Evidence Response Team has shown them how to assess a crime scene and they have learned about cyber safety. The students graduate from the program Wednesday.

Hawkins, the guidance counselor, said she hopes the lessons will help teach students how to deal with life in general.

"I want them to learn there is hope for them," Hawkins said. "They can think about a career not just in the FBI, but in any law enforcement where they can help others."

The program is designed to turn out community ambassadors in whatever field they choose to pursue, said Andrea Aprea, public affairs specialist for the FBI Tampa Division.

"We want them to see the inside that most kids don't get to see," Aprea said. "This is our chance to lead these young people down a more positive, productive road."

The main objective is to instill hope, confidence and self-esteem, in part by introducing the students to positive role models along the way.

"It's an opportunity for the students to get to know us," Aprea said, "learn from us, instead of being afraid of us."

Contact Hannah Farrow at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

FBI points to right path through junior agent program at Madison Middle 02/16/17 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2017 5:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What you need to know for Thursday, June 29

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    See that thing in the water? No? That's the point. It's that time of the year when stingrays are often lurking in the sand, often not visibly. Remember to do the stingray shuffle if you're out at the beach this weekend. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
  2. Pinellas beaches seeing fewer injuries from stingrays, but the summer is still young

    Environment

    FORT DE SOTO — Rebecca Glidden leaned back in her lifeguard chair, watching behind sunglasses as families splashed in the water at Fort De Soto's North Beach.

    A Clearwater water safety supervisor demonstrates the stingray shuffle. Pinellas beaches are reporting relatively few injuries from stingrays so far this year, but they anticipate more as the summer wears on. Officials are reminding beachgoers to do the shuffle when they enter the water and keep an eye out for purple flags flying from the lifeguard towers, which indicate stingray activity. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  3. Weeki Wachee River advocates agree to work to resolve issues

    Local Government

    WEEKI WACHEE — Degradation of the Weeki Wachee River is a complex mix of circumstances, with a variety of jurisdictions holding the authority to fix the problems. That has made finding solutions over the years more about frustration than success.

    A boat and kayak drift into one another as they share the narrow passage near Rogers Park on the Weeki Wachee River in March. Advocates fear too many vessels are damaging the river.
  4. Despite change in Cuba policy, cruise ships sail on

    Tourism

    TAMPA -- It's smooth sailing for cruises from Tampa to Havana, with the first of Carnival Cruise Line's 12 such excursions launching today, two months after Royal Caribbean's initial voyage from Port Tampa Bay to the island.

    The Empress of the Seas cruise ship docks at the Port Tampa Bay Cruise Terminal 3 in Tampa. President Donald 

Trump's new Cuba policy may not hurt cruises to Havana at all. In fact, it may help these cruises. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times
  5. Lien forgiveness program aimed at blighted properties in Zephyrhills

    Local Government

    ZEPHYRHILLS — The city will begin offering a new residential lien forgiveness program in an effort to encourage improvements to properties and home ownership.

    City Manager Steve Spina said it is geared to foreclosures and properties for sale.