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T minus 770 hours equals graduation for 22 cadets entering the police academy. Those hours zoomed by after the first few months at the Criminal Justice Academy of Osceola class of 2011-01. Former cadet Scott O’Neill’s new countdown measures the amount of study time available before his Florida Department of Law Enforcement examination.
It had been years since he was an active Marine and even longer since he’d opened a textbook. His friends in law enforcement gave him some insight into the training he’d begin that January but even their nostalgic advice left him with gray areas of postulation. In hind-sight a small smile creases his face as he remembers the struggles, laughter and plain odd moments he shared with his classmates. He reflects on his academy days before he enters an elementary school full of wide-eyed 5thgraders waiting for his presentation about pursuing a career in law enforcement. Although what he tells them is important, he has a set of tips for future cadets too. His advice for future cadets is simple: understand the sacrifice, make use of camaraderie and prepare mentally.
New commitments require sacrifices whether it’s time, money, or emotional loses, it never hurts to gain a better understanding of what changes must be made. Some future cadets understand they may be away from home most nights of the week and Saturdays but usual responsibilities must be cared for too. Family dinners may experience transitions and you’ll find that work isn’t the only culprit stealing you away from your family. Now you require study time and a personal exercise agenda outside of class. Yards still need mowing, laundry still piles up and children still get sick during your schedule of back-to-back days of eight hours at work and four hours in class. “Sit down ahead of time to discuss the strain and create a plan for balance,” said O’Neill. Brainstorming with your spouse and children can make a world of difference when deciding how time will be spent and chores will continue to be done.” O’Neill advises keeping family rituals such as family pizza or movie nights by making minor adjustments such as shifting days of the week or a time change. If your spouse is having trouble giving up the small amount of time you’re at home together to your studies, try inviting them to surf the Internet or read a book next to you while you study. Also, if you can study at the same table where your children complete their homework, you have the opportunity to lead by example while spending time together.
Bonding time is essential to your family relationship and you’ll soon find out, bonding with your classmates is vital for an enjoyable academy experience. The camaraderie in the police academy establishes another area of support useful to cadets. It’s common for cadets to discuss confusing course material, responsibility-balancing issues, and doubts or questions surrounding career decisions. O’Neill feels his class handled studying well through their use of camaraderie. “We took turns developing and distributing study guides for class exams. Also, someone would make laminated study cards we would pass around. We shared everything,” Said O’Neill. These gestures helped everyone succeed and exemplified the teamwork necessary in the field. Leaders naturally rise in the process of teamwork and although the training can be overwhelming, the extra support helps everyone perform at their peak.
When O’Neill entered the academy, he began running routines to physically prepare for his training, but now he sees that much of his preparation concerned positivity and other mental aspects. “Officers are held to high standards and are always in the public eye,” said O’Neill. “This is a serious profession that demands professionalism; this mindset starts in the academy.” Be prepared to pay attention in class, take lots of notes (O’Neill’s notes barely fit in his 2-inch binder,) and do not be distracted by others if they choose to goof around. He stresses the reality that what is taught in class has the ability to save your life but only if you paid enough attention to recall the information when needed.
Forty-two marks the number of days since all 22 cadets stood together on stage at their graduation, but they have stayed in touch. Texting, Facebook messaging and occasional meet-ups to study for the state exam have kept them in contact for more than a month after their academy days. Some passed their state certification exams, some applied to local agencies, and other, recently-hired officers met the electric shock of a TASER last week. The academy has prepared these former cadets for a career of a lifetime. They differ in personalities, backgrounds, and stages of life but they all share one thing; They survived the academy through diligence, lots of support, and by preparing themselves for any obstacles in their paths.