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Great Bend youth go behind the scenes
new deh youth academy main pic
Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo Director Scott Gregory lets Great Bend Youth Academy participants handle a small sand boa at the zoo Wednesday morning. The annual academy gives seventh and eighth graders a behind-the-scenes look at how the city operates. - photo by Dale Hogg/Great Bend Tribune


It was show-and-tell time for city employees on Wednesday.

During the annual Youth Academy, sponsored by the City of Great Bend, 70 seventh and eighth graders got behind-the-scenes tours of city departments. The tours were also hands-on, so young people got to touch a snake at the zoo and practice a felony traffic stop with police officers.

A felony traffic stop is a high-risk stop, Officer Mark Bretches explained. Officers demonstrated how it is done, and a short time later boys and girls with bright colored water guns were acting out the scene, approaching the "suspect" vehicle parked a few feet away. Other Youth Academy participants, some similarly armed, were inside.

"Show me your hands!"

"Get out of the car!"

"Put the gun down NOW!"

The youths also watched police dog Chester, with his handler, K-9 Officer Brian Dougherty, search a vehicle for a hidden toy representing illegal drugs. The dog can search for narcotics or to recover evidence, Dougherty said. If necessary, it can also bit.

Lt. Scott Harper explained how a Tazer works, as he fired an electric charge into a dummy. The pulsing electric signal does more than cause pain — it sends a signal to the brain that temporarily locks the muscles of the person on the receiving end, he said. Asked about the cost of the Tazer stun gun, he said it costs more than $800 for the gun, and $25 for each cartridge fired. But that’s a small price to pay if an officer can avoid shooting someone, he said.

Meanwhile, Officer John Reynolds was showing a group some of the tactical team’s special gear, and letting them carry the ballistic shield. All of the weapons and other equipment are at the ready when bad things happen, Reynolds said. "Our job is to keep you safe."

And that was just the police department’s part of the tour.

Youth Academy ran from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. The students were scheduled to visit the Waste Water Treatment Plant, Street Department and Park Department in the morning, concluding the morning at Brit Spaugh Park with officers from the Police Department. After that there was lunch with the mayor and city council members, a trip to Fire Station No. 2, and then an idea exchange with City Administrator Howard Partington at the end of the day.

The students rode in fire trucks, police cars, ambulances and other city vehicles as they were transported to various departments.

At the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, Director Scott Gregory showed off some of the newer animals — the sloth, hissing cockroaches and sand snake. Most of the students in the audience indicated they had touched a snake before.

One girl shook her head and declined to make physical contact with the creatures, but Kimberly Sinclair took the challenge. "I held it," she said of the snake. "The cockroaches were disgusting."

Most students who attend Youth Academy each year also say the Waste Water Treatment Plant is disgusting — or at least smells bad. But in their feedback at the end of the day, most of them think next year’s group should also visit the plant.

Prior to the event, Bretches said students would also shoot fire hoses, take part in a mock medical emergency at the Fire Department, drive high loaders and ride 35 feet in the air in bucket trucks at Public Works. "The kids always have a great time with it," he said.

The city has conducted Youth Academy for the past 12 years, representing over 1,100 students, sponsors said.