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Schools FBI provides agents of change for fifth-graders
[February 21, 2009]

Schools FBI provides agents of change for fifth-graders

Feb 21, 2009 (Omaha World-Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- On time, on task and on a mission.

It's a classroom slogan for the fifth-graders at Omaha's Central Park Elementary, 4904 N. 42nd St.

It's also a great way to describe the goal of the FBI's Junior Special Agent Program.

For at least the past 11 years, special agents and other employees from the FBI office in Omaha have visited Central Park Elementary as part of the Adopt-a-School Program.

The program, a partnership between the Omaha Public Schools and Omaha businesses and organizations, is designed to help students achieve academic and personal growth through activities that challenge their minds and help build teamwork.

The FBI volunteers visit the three fifth-grade classes for about an hour each week from January through May.

On the first day, the students take an oath as a symbol of entering the Junior Special Agent Program.

For the next several months, the students are involved in a variety of interactive activities intended to challenge their minds and help develop their group skills. Several activities place them in small group environments.

The effort also gives the youngsters exposure to the law enforcement agency at a human level.

"We want to have an impact," said FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breault. "We want them to know we are their friend." Interacting in a normal way with the FBI agents is important to 11-year-old Austin White.

"I like it because they can have fun, too," Austin said. "It tells us that it's all right if you see a police officer, because they are here to help." The students are also challenged with tasks outside the classroom. Recently, the FBI agents told the kids to do one nice thing for someone at home without being asked, and to help a friend understand a law. The students write about the experiences and are given feedback the next week.

The activities are certainly helpful, said fifth-grade teacher Kim Wiseman.

The FBI agents "work on helping the kids think outside the box, and how things they learn in the classroom apply to life, like writing skills and communication," Wiseman said. "It's been a great program." The students also are put to work on practical matters -- such as what to do if you find a gun.

"I want you to imagine that you are at the park, and you see something laying alongside a tree, and it's a gun," said FBI volunteer Marsha Burmeister. "What would you do?" Ziare Vaughn, 11, knew the answer.

"Call the police," he said excitedly.

"That's right," responded Burmeister. "Because?" "All guns are loaded," replied the students.

In May, the students will visit the FBI's Omaha offices.

There, they will meet the special agent in charge, see the gun vault and graduate from the Junior Special Agent Program.

Overall, it is a great experience for the students, said fifth-grade teacher Chad McAndrews.

With the help of the FBI, an important life lesson is passed along.

"The decisions you make and the people you hang out with now," McAndrews told the students, "will affect you later on in life in the kind of job you might get and the type of skills you have." --Contact the writer: 444-1304, To see more of the Omaha World-Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, Omaha World-Herald, Neb. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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