20 graduate from LEAF Academy

By ALLEN MINCEY Staff Writer
Posted 7/16/17

The past six weeks have not been the easiest for a group of young men and women who attended the LEAF Academy, but hopes are it will make them into some exemplary adults in the near future.

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20 graduate from LEAF Academy

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The past six weeks have not been the easiest for a group of young men and women who attended the LEAF Academy, but hopes are it will make them into some exemplary adults in the near future.

On Friday, 20 graduated at the LEAF Academy. The group was the 25th graduating class in the academy’s history.

LEAF is the acronym for the Law Enforcement Academic and Fitness academy, and those participating are referred by the Juvenile, Family or Campus Court. Each graduate earns a summer school credit for completing the course.

LEAF Academy Director Nancy Stanfield said since the program began in 1997, there have been 705 youngsters graduate. She said the class this year began with 57 participants, but only 20 remained by graduation time.

Those who did graduate will now be a productive part of this community.

“It’s not what we taught them, or that they learned from us, it’s what we have pulled out of them through the six weeks,” Stanfield said.

She said many who graduated may not have had enough self-worth to know what they were capable of, but hopefully, they do now.

Cleveland Police Chief Mark Gibson noted the program is not a punishment for the young people who graduated — “it is an investment program and the success of these graduates impacts our community now and later.”

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland told the graduates that completing their time with the LEAF Academy is not an end, but “the beginning of a new part of your life. I feel by going through the academy, I believe this group will not make the same mistakes as adults.”

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson said those children who ended up at LEAF Academy could have been sent there because they did something that their parents or other adults could have prevented.

“A lot of times, we don’t invest the time, and what we are doing is failing our kids,” Watson said. He told the parents in attendance to try to have a good relationship with their children, do things with them such as throw a football or go for a walk or bike ride, “and be more of a part of their lives.”

Juvenile Judge Dan Swafford echoed Watson’s sentiments, asking those parents and adults, and the entire community, to “help us continue to develop them.”

Magistrate Ashley Gaither, who was attending her first LEAF graduation since becoming the juvenile official, said the youngsters had probably seen her in court, and she could see a difference in them.

She credited not only the boys and girls for their work toward improvement, but also the staff at the academy for working with these young people.

The LEAF Academy staff includes Stanfield, who has served 20 years with LEAF, along with Lt. Julie Quinn and Deputy Robbie Hair from the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, Cleveland Police officers Richie Tanksley, Mike Harris and Julius Porter, Chris Stanfield and Mallory Liedl of the Bradley County Juvenile Courts, Hiawatha Brown and Jim Peck with the Bradley County Schools, along with assistance from Tilda Wood for transportation, the Bradley County Health Department, Centerstone and the GRAAB Coalition.

Stanfield also thanked Dr. Russell Dyer, director of Cleveland City Schools, and Dr. Linda Cash, Bradley County Schools director, for their support.

“This is the only county that I can think of where you get all these working together on a program like LEAF,” said Stanfield.

She stressed to the graduates that though they might not ever see any of the juvenile court individuals in the future, they will always be remembered.

“We are family, and we are there for them,” Stanfield told those attending the graduation at Cleveland Middle School. “They are in our hearts, and that will keep them still there with us.”

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Email: allen.mincey@clevelandbanner.com

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