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WEEKEND WARRIORS

A semester with the LASD North Academy Explorers Class 93

Photos and story by Katharine Lotze
Originally published by the Santa Clarita Valley Signal

Some teenagers spend their Saturdays playing Call of Duty, but a group of 49 from in and around the Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys have spent their last 22 consecutive Saturdays answering the call of duty.

Jan. 17 was graduation day — and the final day for the 93rd class of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department North Academy Explorers program.

In their starched uniforms and fresh haircuts, this group of youths looked a far cry from the group who reported on the first day of class Aug. 23.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” said Makena Shepard, who was named the Honor Recruit for the North Academy.

Over the 22-week semester, the recruits learned the basics of law enforcement, including rigourous physical training, weapons training, a look inside the Pitchess Detention Center, and a one-time four-mile run around Castaic Lake.

It’s the largest class for North Academy ever, located at College of the Canyons, as well as the Explorers Academy overall, a career development and education program run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to instructor Sgt. Jonathan Melville, who runs the Explorers Academy. The class also had a record number of female graduates this year — just over 70 females in a class of 212 from three different academies from around the greater Los Angeles area.

Most of the instructors are volunteers, coming out nearly every Saturday during the school year to assist with the academy.

“That’s what we keep telling ourselves — it’s for the greater good,” Deputy Tommy Thompson says with a laugh.

The Explorers Academy is a scaled-down and age-appropriate version of the Sheriff’s Academy. Some graduates continue into the Explorers program, volunteering with the Sheriff’s Department, and some join the force.

“This has made me tougher, I think,” Shepard said.