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Time for Tough Love

Local VIDA Academy works to drill the message home

Posted: August 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Drill instructor Matthew Webb reprimands VIDA academy participant Andrew Babaeghian, 12, left, as he runs in place during the morning inspection held at Bouquet Canyon Elementary School on Saturday. Photo by Dan Watson.

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Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Deputy Tim Ferrone paced back and forth Saturday, his eyes scrutinizing the about 20 children seated at desks in front of him.

“My job as a deputy sheriff right now is not to put you in jail,” he told the group. “It’s to keep you out of jail.”

Each of the about 20 children present at Bouquet Canyon Elementary School on Saturday was there as part of the Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives academy, a multi-pronged program aimed at reaching out to at-risk youth.

Saturday marked the first week of the 16-week program, which is open for children between 12 and 17 years old.

Some were there because they had been referred to the program by a court or a deputy. Some were there because they were out of control at home.

But Ferrone said each was there to learn impulse control, respect and self-discipline.

“A lack of self-discipline is how a lot of these kids get into trouble,” Ferrone said.

But the key to teaching children self-discipline may be just that: discipline.

A prominent portion of the VIDA academy is military-style drilling, where participants have to swiftly respond to the sharp commands of drill instructors governing everything from how to sit at a desk to how to drink water.

Failure to follow those orders to the letter brings a swift and harsh reprimand.

“You think you’re in a Michael Jackson music video, bouncing around like that?” Drill Instructor Javier Toledo asked a participant who failed to stand at attention properly. “Stand still, don’t move!”

The program also features a family counseling component, according to Ferrone.

“We’re not auto mechanics,” he said. “You can’t just drop a kid off and expect us to fix them.

“That’s why we try to bring families closer together.”

Though he has been involved in the program for some time, Ferrone said he still appreciates the opportunity to try and set kids on the right path.

“When you see them get their lives together, that’s the most rewarding part,” Ferrone said.

Though the road ahead may be hard, Ferrone said he and his compatriots were willing to do what it takes to get the kids on the right path.

“You might quit on yourselves, but we’re not going to quit on you,” he told the group.

“Yes sir!” the children responded.
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