Some kids spend their summers playing baseball or swimming. Joseph Branch spent his summer rifling through a hotel room looking for evidence.
Branch is one of 30 youths who participated in CSI: Crime Scene, a new EDGE program offered by Stuttgart Child, Youth and School Services.
“The idea was developed by listening to our EDGE participants concerning new program ideas,” said Jackie D’Agostino, the CYS Services EDGE Program manager.
EDGE is an after-school program designed to help students “Experience, Develop, Grow and Excel” by participating in a wide variety of activities.
The new CSI class began with demonstrations from the Antiterrorism Awareness Office, where the participants learned about recognizing and reporting suspicious behavior. A variety of mock explosive devices were displayed. Later, detectives from the Provost Marshal’s Office demonstrated the techniques and equipment used to collect evidence at a crime scene.
The demonstration concluded with a tour of the garrison’s new Mobile Command Post, a high-tech van loaded with thermal cameras and communication equipment.
By the second day, the aspiring detectives were put in the driver’s seat as they were asked to solve the case of a Soldier who mysteriously disappeared from the Panzer Hotel.
The case was a fictional script written by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Marketing Specialist Don Walker. He developed a story line designed to challenge the students to use their critical thinking skills as well as their imagination. Walker’s script also required a lot of note taking by the young sleuths, something he hoped would help them prepare for the new school year. He said the kids surprised him by their ability to reconstruct events accurately.
“They were very detail oriented,” said Walker, “which is what this program is all about.” To solve the case, the kids first conducted interviews with witnesses and potential suspects at the Galaxy Bowling and Entertainment Center.
From there, the school-aged sleuths went to the Panzer Hotel where they searched a room that had been laced with clues provided by Walker. The student investigators, wearing rubber gloves, carefully collected items like a cell phone and a bloody shirt and placed them in evidence bags. On the final day of the program, the flatfoots-in-training gathered to reveal what they thought had happened.
“It’s surprising,” said Walker, “Most of these kids were spot on.”
Sara Hartzell, 11, said solving this mystery was better than watching one on TV.
“It was great,” she said, “because not all of the clues were obvious.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, Joseph Branch , 11, gave the plot a 9.5 and said he wanted to sign up for future CSI cases. D’Agostino said that the CSI course had about a 50 percent increase in enrollment over previous courses.
“And it held their interest from beginning to end,” she said.
She says much of the success of the CSI class was the result of so many people and organizations willing to support the concept with their time and by offering areas for the crime scenes.
And, what happened to the missing Soldier? It turned out he had concocted an elaborate charade to cover up his plan to desert the Army and become a mechanic …and he might have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for these meddling kids.
The CYS Services EDGE program partners with various other Family and MWR activities to offer after school activities for middle and high school-aged youth.
September classes include art classes such as tie dye and crochet, cooking, bowling, golf and tennis. The next CSI: Crime Scene program is scheduled for February.
All participants must be registered with CYS Services and sign up in advance at Parent Central Services in Building 2347, Patch Barracks.
For more information, call 430-7480/7488, civ. 0711-680-7480/7488, or contact the EDGE program coordinator at 430-8214/civ. 0711-680-8214.