Four years after its opening, the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety is finally ready to mark a crucial milestone. The hard work of students and teachers alike has culminated in the school’s first graduation, which will take place at One Police Plaza in Manhattan on June 26.
The principal of the Jamaica school, Diahann Malcolm, who has 26 years of experience in education, has brought the school to this point from what she calls “ground zero.”
“It’s one of the greatest accomplishments of my life,” Malcolm said of overseeing the first graduating class of around 100 students.
The high school’s academic focus is reflected in its name. In addition to mandatory subjects like math, English, gym and social studies, students examine various aspects of law enforcement and public safety, including forensics and criminology.
Many of the graduating students intend to continue their education in these fields. Some of them, not surprisingly, aspire to become lawyers and public servants, but their interests are not limited to law enforcement exclusively.
From the start, Malcolm’s plan was to focus on building relationships within the school while simultaneously implementing a solid instructional program. In doing so, she found the school would come into its own, promoting an environment that would foster positive results. Last year, 74 percent of students scored 65 or better on the standardized English exams, 12 points higher than the city average.
Taking on an initial student population of about 250 and 15 teachers, Malcolm had to bear a heavy workload. With such a limited staff, extracurricular activities and some of the school’s technology equipment were not available.
“When you open up a new school project, everything is not up and running,” she said during an interview in her office. “So, what you will find is, there’s a lot of things that people might want to do and want in place that cannot be in place at that particular time because we are still developing a school.”
Participating in academic and sports competitions was out of the question, partly due to the inability to supply the minimum number of students needed to create a team. To keep students content, clubs were put in place instead of the actual teams.
With time and a grade added each year, a more complete school began to take shape. The sports teams and a more extensive list of activities and clubs were added, such as the mock trial team. Specialized classrooms for computer and forensics slowly came into use, giving students a glimpse of the technologies available to them.
Students were also able to take advantage of the adjoining Police Athletic League center, which has a boxing ring, dance room and two gymnasiums. The rooftop track became home to the school’s Leopards track team in the third year.A slew of electives were added, such as forensics, criminal law, introduction to emergency medical service and weight training.
In the fourth and final year, the school added more classes, including introduction to the NYPD, constitutional law, an internship program, Advanced Placement English and a college-accredited advanced forensics course. The school now enrolls 617 students.
Looking to the future, Malcolm said she plans to eliminate the Courage and Honesty academies, and replace them with specific law enforcement and public safety study tracks. She also hopes to continue discussions with colleges, including York College, St. John’s and John Jay, to ensure that students can make a smooth transition into higher education.
— Editor’s note: Shaneka Anderson and Tiffany White are graduating seniors at the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety.