Washington Post: For Bethesda-Chevy Chase teens, ‘job shadow day’ sheds light on police

Montgomery County Officer Patty Desouza shows her bulletproof vest and other standard gear to Dani Seltzer, 17, a Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School student. Dani was meeting police as part of the school’s job shadow day. (Bettina Lanyi/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Montgomery County Officer Patty Desouza shows her bulletproof vest and other standard gear to Dani Seltzer, 17, a Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School student. Dani was meeting police as part of the school’s job shadow day. (Bettina Lanyi/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Driving on Rockville Pike in his police cruiser on a sunny Thursday morning, Montgomery County officer Brian Nave is on the lookout for motorists skirting the law, with an extra level of scrutiny reserved for one of his pet peeves: drivers who text.

“See that driver? He had his phone out, then he set it back down when he saw me come up behind him,” Nave said to Ruby Schwat, 17, a Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School junior. As the officer provided a running commentary on his typical day, Ruby peppered him with questions on the details — including the many functions of the laptop propped under the car’s dashboard, which performs functions such as snapping photos of passing cars and conducting driver’s license checks.

“If you arrest someone and bring them back to the station, where would they sit?” Ruby asked.

“Right where you’re sitting,” Nave told her, indicating the front passenger seat.

Ruby had joined Nave in a police ride-along for her school’s job shadow day, part of the school’s job internship program. About 100 juniors and seniors got a taste of real-world jobs, from shadowing a cardiologist at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda to getting a behind-the-scenes peek at news production at Al Jazeera’s station in the county .

B-CC internship coordinator Stacey Farrar, who has run the program for the past five years, said the greatest benefit to students is exposure to the working world.

“Many students come away thinking, ‘Oh, wow. I could really do this,’ ” Farrar said. “And some of them say, ‘I don’t think that’s for me.’ But they’re usually grateful when they realize that, too.

“One of the kids went to the Rock Creek Conservancy,” Farrar said. “He liked the idea of being outside and on his feet part of the day. He realized, ‘Wow that’s probably a lot more interesting for me than being behind a desk.’ Just to have that realization is helpful.”

In its 23rd year, the program is a collaboration with the school, the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and the Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, which helps structure the program to students’ career aspirations.

Melanie Folstad, chairwoman-elect of the chamber and the mother of B-CC graduates, has seen the effects of the program first-hand. Her son, who participated in a science-related internship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, is enrolled in an engineering program at Old Dominion University.

“It fueled a flame that was flickering there,” Folstad said.

The teens on the ride-along, who got to tour the 2nd District police station in downtown Bethesda before pairing up with officers, were unanimous in their enthusiasm for their shadow day.

Dani Seltzer, 17, said her meeting with detective Britta Thomas of the county’s Petty Crimes Unit piqued her interest in detective work as a possible future career.

“Before, I was a little interested,” Dani said. “Now I’m definitely interested.”

Officer Argirios Kasaskeris said ride-along programs serve a purpose beyond the teens’ career explorations. It can humanize police officers and make youths see beyond the stereotypes perpetuated on TV shows and in news reports about police abuses of authority.

“It’s important for the ones who might have negative views of police officers,” Kasaskeris said. “When you have a negative light shined on you so much, you want to show them: Hey, I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m a son, I’m no different than you. The emotions that you feel, I feel. I’m not a soldier that’s programmed to go out there.

“It’s good when you have a student that might be kind of on the fence about how they feel about it,” he said. “The ride-along is the perfect tool for the department for changing the negative perceptions that are out there, especially with young adults in high school.”

By Bettina Lanyi // Lanyi is a freelance writer.