St. Joseph County CTE Public Safety program to be recognized in Lansing

Public safety students demonstrating the correct way to punch police training pads for a Centreville young fives class. (From left to right) Hunter Dietrich (Sturgis), Jeremiah Delhomme (Centreville), Logan Markey (Sturgis), Haylee Miller (Constantine), Matthew Jacobs (Centreville), Lilly Holtom (Burr Oak), Morgan Baumeister (Sturgis), Mackenzie Sanford (Mendon). (Beca Welty|Watershed Voice)

Students from St. Joseph County’s Intermediate School District Career Technical Education’s (CTE) Public Safety program will be recognized at the Michigan State Capitol this week as part of the CTE Showcase. The students will visit Lansing on Thursday to explain what the public safety program is, what they’re doing in and outside of the classroom, and what they hope to accomplish. 

Centreville High School is the host for the public safety CTE course, with 22 students attending the class from Three Rivers, Constantine, Mendon, Burr Oak, and Sturgis. The class is under the direction of retired Det. Sgt. Chad Spence, who retired from the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s department last year after 26 years of service. Prior to the CTE class, Spence began teaching in the St. Joseph County Jail helping inmates prepare for the GED. “I had a great time doing that, and then this opportunity came about,” Spence told Watershed Voice.

CTE 2022-2023 Public Safety class (from left to right) Tiana Stallard (Sturgis), Hunter Diethric (Sturgis), Chief Dan Kennedy (Mendon PD), Haylee Miller (Constantine), Jace Fuller (Centreville), Jeremiah Delhomme (Centreville), Lilly Holtom (Burr Oak), Kendall Schram (Constantine), Mackenzie Sanford (Mendon), Morgan Baumeister (Sturgis), Logan Markey (Sturgis), Matthew Jacobs (Centreville), Lydia Boland (Sturgis), Samara Rensi (Mendon). Not pictured: Juan Reyes (Three Rivers), Michael Overholts (Three Rivers), Mickenzie Holderman (Burr Oak), Gracie Boyd (Burr Oak), Paul Denmark (Centreville).

This is the inaugural year for the CTE public safety course, with Spence saying it was a “no-brainer” when he was approached to consider teaching. “We are building this from the ground up,” he said, calling his students “pioneers.” The public safety class worked together with the CTE marketing class to develop a design for the program, which honors police, firefighters, and emergency medical services, as well as signifying the county. Spence said of the logo, “I tell them they can’t take this away from you. Nobody can. You’re the first ones to do this.”

CTE Public Safety logo designed by CTE students.

According to Spence, the program has received a multitude of equipment to aid in the education of his class. The classroom has a kitchen, which is being fully equipped as a forensic lab where the students can learn to process evidence. “Fuming tanks, trajectory kits, you name it, we have 110% support behind us,” he said. Spence shared his appreciation for Director of CTE Jim Berry and CTE Coordinator Jennifer Yesh, saying they have been a vital part of building the program. The course began the year with 22 students, and Spence believes the numbers will be about the same next school year, though he hopes the numbers will go up. 

The public safety class has been designed by Spence to create an “academy atmosphere” for the students. “Our three main things are teamwork, leadership, and discipline. Regardless if you do any of these professions or not, you can take those three skills anywhere and be leaders in whatever profession you do choose,” he said. Each week begins with the assignment of a team leader and an assistant team leader, with the students choosing the latter. Spence said he does this in order to teach them to hold each other accountable. 

After the assignments of team leaders have been issued, the students perform inspections to ensure everyone is in uniform, which consists of a polo with the student-designed public safety course emblem, black pants, and black shoes. The exception to this dress code are on Mondays and Fridays, when the kids have physical training (PT) days. “Our PT is structured for everybody,” Spence said. “The idea with PT is to work as a team and learn leadership — It’s not really about getting in shape, even though it’s important, too.” The PT includes push-ups, sit-ups, and other various requirements for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES), a standardized test for writing, reading, and physical fitness. “We did one in the beginning of the year, and we just did another one and we had five people that would have passed,” Spence said. “You take the MCOLES before you get into the academy, so that’s what I’m preparing them for.”

CTE student Samara Rensi said she feels Spence does a “really good job” explaining different path options related to Emergency Medical Services and law enforcement. “Because he was a detective, he just really goes in depth into what he teaches about, and he really cares about what we do,” Rensi said. “He points out the good in it because it’s hard for people to stay attached to wanting to work for the police force, and he sticks out all the positive stuff.” Rensi also said she enjoys working with elementary students. “We do a perimeter check, so we’ll go around and check their school and make sure everything is good. When we do that, we walk through the playground to make sure, and the little kids are always coming up to us and asking what we are doing. It’s really cool,” she said.

The CTE Showcase on April 20 in Lansing will host 22 CTE programs from across Michigan. Spence’s public safety program is one of 50 others like it in the state, and he recognized what an honor it was to be selected for the Showcase. “I told the kids that’s pretty cool because they’re working their butts off, and this is like the State Championship of CTE.” Spence said he was disappointed he’s not allowed to bring every student in his class, and so he had to randomly choose only five to attend the showcase. Those students will be at the event from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. where they will set up a booth with information on the program, run demos for those in attendance, and speak to legislators. “Senator Lindsey is going to take us to his office and we’re going to be able to walk around with him,” Spence said. “I think Representative (Steve) Carra will also be there.”

On April 17, Spence welcomed Centerville elementary children to visit his classroom and students, and said he did so in order to promote the public safety program and the professions involved. “I think nowadays, especially on the law enforcement side, it’s more negative than positive and there’s so many positive things through law enforcement that we don’t see,” he said. “I think it starts here and showing all the young children about that and these professions.”

Elementary children with ages ranging from young fives through third grade arrived to the public safety class where they received stickers and watched a brief promotional video explaining an overview of the program. CTE students next spoke to the children instructing them on fire safety, police safety, and information regarding when and how to dial 911. Demonstrations were performed by the CTE class on things such as being handcuffed, hitting and kicking training pads, crime scene photography, and the process of finger-printing. First responders from Sturgis, White Pigeon, Three Rivers, and Mendon were on the scene with their vehicles and equipment to share with the elementary students, as well. 

 “I appreciate the effort they (the students) put in because we do push them,” Spence said regarding his pioneer public safety program. “We push them academically and physically, but they’re going to be really good leaders in whatever they do. Hopefully it is these professions, but if not, that is okay.”

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.