A class at South Carolina’s North Charleston High School is shining a light on law enforcement careers in an effort to improve young adults’ understanding of law enforcement and spark their interest in the criminal justice field.
The class has been taught for the past four years by former Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, police officer Jay Tronco, who built the course curriculum from the ground up using state standards.
The class is unique in that it is the only one offered by the Charleston County School District through its Career and Education Program. South Carolina community colleges offer similar courses, but it is the first of its kind to exist in a high school.
The program consists of three courses: Intro to Law Enforcement, Law Enforcement I and Law Enforcement II. Students must pass all three semester courses to complete the program.
According to Moultrie News, Tronco starts the program by asking students about their views on law enforcement, most of which are negative. After the end of the course and with more knowledge under their belt, most of the students change their perceptions. Some even develop a career interest in the profession.
“As word got out about the class and what the students were learning, the beliefs about officers began to change,” Tronco said. “The students are learning about their individual rights and the numerous career options they may have should they pursue it.”
Tronco’s curriculum includes constitutional law, search and seizure, handcuffing, traffic stops, a shooting simulator, use of batons and CPR. Much of it, Tronco says, is very hands-on.
“I get the kids engaged in the class from the very start,” he said. “I let them put handcuffs on each other and on me. It’s true training.”
Principal Henry Darby also contributes to the program. He even obtained a police vehicle to simulate traffic stops.
Tronco said much of the class is about teaching the law so that students know their rights as well as the rights of law enforcement.
“The Constitution is something most people know very little about,” he said. “That’s the foundation of the class because as citizens we have so many rights and privileges. I show them what a legal search looks like and what an illegal search looks like. I teach them what cops can and can’t do. That’s why it is important to me that they know their own rights.”
This year, the program partnered with the Charleston School of Law to teach “Street Law,” a course in which students engage in experiential learning and law training in order to hone their critical thinking skills.
The “Street Law Clinic” focuses on the law, the legal process, the Constitution and the United States government. It also explores topics related to courts, fairness in the justice system and social equality. The class is taught by third-year law students, one of whom is Emily Ledford.
“I applied to the Street Law Clinic because I always considered being a teacher,” Ledford said. “Street Law satisfied my desire to be an attorney and to experience teaching in the classroom.”
Ledford explained that after conducting a mock trial with the students, one of them approached her and expressed an interest in pursuing a law career.
“That was part of my goal in participating in Street Law,” Ledford said. “If one student expressed an interest in law, then I accomplished what I came to do. I wanted to show these students that there are so many opportunities in law enforcement and criminal justice.”
Tronco hopes that more schools will adopt the program. Darby only had praise for the committed teacher.
“Mr. Tronco is a superlative instructor who has put NCHS upfront in the efforts to recruit students — soon to be adults — to be of top quality law enforcement officers,” the principal said. “With his doing so, he is helping change the school and community culture for the better.”