Joppatowne seniors, alumni celebrate 10 years of Homeland Security signature program

Zachary Lovelace, the co-coordinator of the Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness signature program at Joppatowne High School, has been involved with the program since it started in 2007.

He got the opportunity to reunite with some of the people who have gone through the program during the past 10 years during Thursday evening's recognition of the graduating seniors in the Class of 2017 who have completed their Capstone projects.

Alumni of the HSEP program had been invited to attend the ceremony, and about 10 to 15 graduates were present, according to school officials.

"It was absolutely great to see some of the alumni come back," Lovelace said.

He noted that "it was really good to catch up with some of them, see where they are and see what their future plans are."

The Homeland Security program is a signature program open to students in the Joppatowne High attendance area. Participants start during their sophomore years with a "foundations course" in emergency management and homeland security, according to Lovelace.

They can then pick one of three strands, either GIS mapping/geospatial technology, criminal justice/law enforcement or homeland security sciences.

Students spend their senior years working on their Capstone projects, partnering with mentors in public safety, military or technology fields.

Lovelace said graduates have pursued careers in law enforcement, the military and emergency management, noting they have "brought the Mariner spirit" and the HSEP program with them as they develop their careers and lives.

Caedra Ball, a 2012 graduate, was among the returning alumni. She is scheduled to graduate from Towson University May 25 with a degree in criminal justice, and she plans to pursue a career in either law enforcement or government.

Ball, 22, said it seems to her that there has been a greater investment in the program, and the students have more opportunities to hear from guest speakers and take field trips.

"It's come a long way," the Joppa resident said. "It makes me happy."

There are 120 students participating in the program this year, including the 31 seniors, according to Erica Kelly, the other co-coordinator.

The seniors were recognized in the auditorium during the first part of the event. They received their purple and silver stoles marking their completion of the HSEP program. They heard from guest speakers such as Brig. Gen. William King IV, the leader of the 20th CBRNE Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Kelly said some alumni who attended Thursday's ceremony took part in the first year of the program.

"We wanted to show how much the program has grown in the 10 years," Kelly said.

Joppatowne High Principal Pamela Zeigler said students have been keeping up with the changing demands of technology as it relates to homeland security.

She said they have been learning skills and subjects such as cybersecurity, coding and 3-D printing, and they have developed mobile apps and educational videos to help emergency officials better communicate with the public.

"They're looking at all of the means of communication that are available today to show how we can be better prepared in case of an emergency," Ziegler said.

The HSEP students also paid tribute recently to a Joppatowne alumnus killed while serving with the Army in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, 37, died April 8 after being wounded in action fighting militants affiliated with the Islamic State terror group. He spent part of his youth living in Edgewood, and he graduated from Joppatowne in 1998.

Staff Sgt. De Alencar was buried in Arlington National Cemetery May 10. The funeral procession passed through the high school campus on its way from McComas Funeral Home in Abingdon to the cemetery. Students in the signature program stood outside and paid homage as the procession passed, Ziegler said.

"We received a very nice note from the funeral home, letting us know how much the family appreciated that the students were out there," the principal said.

LaShon Waters, a family and consumer sciences teacher who has been at Joppatowne High for 21 years, knew of De Alencar from her early years at the school.

She and her students watched the funeral procession from their classroom.

"It was really touching," she recalled. "It was an honor."

She does not teach in the HSEP program, but she knows many of the students through their other classes and activities, as she also coaches volleyball and the step squad.

Waters attended Thursday's event and talked with the seniors as they displayed their Capstone projects in the gymnasium.

"I know that these are students are hard working and they are determined to make us happy, and they do a good job," Waters said.

Waters chatted with senior Fatima Perez-Pineda, 18, of Edgewood, about her project about ways for nurses to handle stress.

Fatima said she learned a lot from the Homeland Security program.

"I was a bit intimidated [at first], but as I kept going I found out it helped me a lot," she said.

She plans to study criminal justice at Harford Community College, and she hopes to become a criminal psychologist.

Fatima said the program helped her develop a post-secondary education plan.

"A lot of the teachers, they helped guide us through," she said.

Senior Caitlin Meurer, 17, of Edgewood, put her studies in GIS mapping to work for her project, collecting and mapping data of assaults committed around Harford County schools.

She said the majority of incidents happened along the Route 24 and Route 40 corridors, and they were "heavily concentrated" in the Joppa and Edgewood areas.

"This program is one of the best things Joppatowne [High School] has," Caitlin said.

Caitlin plans to study cybersecurity at Harford Community College. She noted students who complete the Homeland Security program can earn certifications, which gives them a head start in their career fields.

"It's a really great program, and I hope more people come," she said, noting two of her brothers and a sister are graduates, too.

Rodney Scott, 18, of Edgewood, worked with Harford County Sheriff's Office Deputy Khalid Mitchell, his mentor, to develop lesson plans that school resource officers can use to teach students about police work.

"I feel like it's been one of the most enjoyable parts of my high school career," Rodney said of the program. "It's kept me on a steady path."

He plans to study journalism at HCC.

Mitchell, who is the school resource officer for Joppatowne, said Rodney presented his lesson plan to two of Mitchell's supervisors in the Sheriff's Office SRO program.

Mitchell said the proposed lessons would give parents a much better idea of what school resource officers do and that they can have positive interactions with students by teaching them about police work, not just negative interactions when they must detain students who have committed an offense.

"Rodney's program, I think, would let them know we do a ton of positive things with the schools," he said.

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