BPD's Youth Academy holds graduation ceremony

Fifteen teens graduated Thursday from the Burbank Police Department's Youth Academy, a five-week program that includes physical training, lectures on law enforcement and mock job interviews.

Among the graduates was Yasmin Garcia, who, after surviving a battle with cancer last year, joined the academy to regain her strength and learn something new.

"I was not as strong as I was before. I wanted to do this to try to get back to where I was," Garcia said, adding that she wants to be a crime-scene investigator when she grows up.

One of the proudest moments for the 16-year-old, who is now in remission, was running a mile and a half in about 12 minutes, something that took her 20 minutes on her first day.

"That day I learned if I set my mind to it, anything's possible," Garcia said.

Burbank Police Officer Cindy Guillen, who taught the class, tailored the lessons to be relevant to teenagers, covering school shootings, bullying, Internet dangers and mental health issues.

One story that struck Garcia was a police call in which Guillen responded to McDonald's in Burbank following reports of a man with a gun. After fighting with Guillen's partner inside, the suspect ended up jumping into Guillen's patrol car, beating her and attempting to take her gun.

"That was pretty intense," Garcia said. "I didn't know how much they had to commit and how much they put their life in danger."

In that moment, giving up was not an option for Guillen. And while her students may not face life-or-death situations, Guillen wanted to emphasize that "you can't sell yourself short regardless of what the situation is."

Jonathan Melara, another 16-year-old graduate, said physical training was his favorite part of the class, despite vomiting after the first day's workout.

"Before I started this academy, I was very interested and curious about law enforcement," Melara said. "It taught me about honor, integrity and respect."

Melara has wanted to be a police officer since he was 6 years old, when he sat in a police car at an open house for the Burbank Police Department.

Not every teen was cut out for the program — six students dropped out, Guillen said. A majority of the students received school credit for taking the class.

"It's not an easy class," said Burbank Police Officer Joshua Kendrick. "It's not just physical. It's mentally tough."

At Thursday's graduation, Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse encouraged members of the graduating class to set their goals and go for them.

"This is just the beginning for you," LaChasse said, adding that he hoped the class taught the graduates about themselves, discipline and citizenship. "Those are virtues that are going to get you through life."


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Twitter: @atchek


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