FOX 32 NEWS - Some Chicago high school students are getting a behind-the-scenes look at law enforcement that is doing more than preparing them for a possible career. It’s helping prepare them for life.
The students are getting this special opportunity through the Chicago FBI Explorers program and in the culmination of the current session, the students participated in a mock bank robbery situation with a crazed man with a bomb.
“Boom! I'm taking you hostage. Hey, I'm running this thing,” yelled an FBI agent playing the role of the robber.
“Oh my god, oh my god, somebody help me,” screamed the woman playing his hostage.
It created a chaotic scene inside the Chicago FBI Headquarters.
“This is a bomb, I only like red pens, this is blue pen, that's how you know it's a bomb trigger,” yelled the robber, ratcheting up the tension.
“Calm down, it's okay, you're not in any danger, we're not gonna hurt you,” said 17 year old Alex Gupta, one of the Explorers taking part in the drill, as she tried to diffuse the situation.
“It was really crazy, at first it was a little chaotic, because it was like we've got to go arrest this guy and we have to keep people safe and whatever,” Gupta said afterwards.
The Explorers program helps high schoolers learn about what the job of an FBI Agent really entails beyond just what the students might see on TV.
“I'm someone who enjoys a good crime show, but with that world it can get very glamorized, and you know the reality of it, which the program shows me and what it shows a lot of the kids now is that there's a lot of extra works that goes into it, it's not always glamorous,” said Eva Cowan, a graduate of last year’s program who was invited back this session to help mentor the next class.
A good deal of the program involves class time, where students are taught about surveillance, hostage negotiating, finger printing and a variety of other skills.
“We're giving them opportunities to be, opportunities to learn building rapport, active listening, asking questions, things that obviously we need for our job, and at the same time, whatever career path these kids choose they're going to succeed with those kinds of skills,” said Special Agent Sarah Henkelmann who serves as the program coordinator.
There is an application process each student goes through, but the FBI isn't necessarily looking for the best and the brightest.
“We want students who are your students who have life challenges, either because they come from a single parent home or they're facing some other kind of challenge in the community that they live in,” said Special Agent Vic Lombardo, who serves as the program advisor.
The challenges the students face and learn to overcome are shaping them for the next step after high school.
“The leadership skills, definitely, they made it comfortable to ask questions in our sessions, they made it comfortable for everyone to have a leading role at some point,” Gupta said.
Three students from each session are asked to return to help mentor the next class. Cowan said the program helped her grow.
“When I first started out I was very shy, and I think that the program really brought me out of my shell because it allowed me to engage with other kids, it allowed me to really get into my interests and voice my interests and that really helped me to become more confident in myself,” Cowan said.
But whether they choose a career with the FBI, or something completely different, the Explorers program hopes to instill in the students an outward focus.
“We want them focused on 'we're in this together' and in the long term the only way we make our communities better is if we all act as servant leaders, serving other people and not just ourselves,” Special Agent Lombardo said.
But it’s not just the students who benefit from the Explorers program. The FBI agents, who all volunteer their time, said it gives them a chance to do more than just lock up bad guys, it provides an opportunity to make a difference by helping good kids.
The Explorers program runs from September through April and applications for next fall can be submitted through March 15, 2017 at https://fbichicagoexplorers.com/