Hailey Steele, 14, spends most of her summer days looking after her younger siblings. Javier Gutierrez, 13, passes his school-free hours by listening to the radio and playing video games. It’s pretty standard summer fare for teens.

But last week, the two rising freshmen at Osbourn High School in Manassas joined about a dozen of their future classmates at the Manassas City Police Camp. Instead of hanging out at home, they were learning how to wrap and investigate a crime scene, using the simulator that shows what happens when people text and drive, and playing the part of police officer in mock traffic stops.

Hailey and Javier both said they enjoyed learning defensive tactics and practicing arrest protocol on their fellow campers. They agreed that the camp is “cool.” Coming from teens who surrendered potential pool time with friends to be there, that’s pretty high praise.

The city also offers a Fire and Rescue Camp to freshmen at the high school, and 16 students were participating in that two-week program. The Fire and Rescue Camp will offer a second session this month for rising sophomores who participated in last year’s camp, with a more advanced curriculum.

The Manassas police and firefighter camps developed from conversations between the administrators at Osbourn and city officials over how to help kids build their confidence as they head into high school. The free camps debuted last year and were so popular with kids and staff members that they were brought back this summer.

Manassas Fire/Rescue campers, all Osbourn High School freshmen, got a taste of life as a firefighter last week as they worked together to control a fire hose. (Sarah Lane/TWP)

Pushing barrels across a parking lot with the spray from fire hoses and learning how to take footprints at a crime scene might sound like fun and games, but there are important lessons built in to the activities, said Brett Bowman, Manassas Fire and Rescue chief.

“This is about developing them into young adults. We hide it behind these fun activities of fire and rescue, but it’s about teaching them responsibility,” Bowman said. “When I talked to them the other day, I talked about the need to think about the consequences of things they do throughout their lives, and how it can have positive or negative impacts.”

So, yes, the kids are learning how to suit up in firefighting gear in less than a minute, administer CPR and make a routine traffic stop. But they’re also doing lots of team-building activities and getting a taste of what it’s like to fill out a job application and go on an interview.

“Their eyes are opened about how much they don’t know about themselves. They don’t know their Social Security number, their home address, their home phone numbers, because those are just saved in their phone under ‘Mom,’ ” said Kevin Shafer, a fire and rescue master technician who is the lead instructor at the camp. “This is fire and rescue camp, but we’re trying to teach you about yourself, too.”

Lt. Stephanie Morbeto with the Manassas Police Department, who oversees the police camp, said she sees a big boost in the kids’ confidence by the end of the week. The camps also give the students a chance to get to know the school resource officers —
Esteban Jordan at Metz Middle School and Kenyetta Grigsby at Osbourn High School — who are in charge of running the two one-week sessions.

“They work with these kids every day, they know what they’re interested in, they know what they need to be taught,” Morbeto said of Jordan and Grigsby. “I wish more people could see the [difference in the] kids from the Monday that they come in, and they’re so meek, and it’s just real quiet. Then by Friday, it’s ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir,’ they’re just speaking much more.”