2 students and 3 police officers sitting at a table with microphones

With a 26-year law enforcement veteran at the helm, the Advanced Criminal Justice class at Gainesville High School often hosts law enforcement representatives. Jeffrey Bergman, the course teacher, hails from the Fairfax County Police Department, and with that connection, he’s been able to bring in a polygraph specialist, defense attorney, and bomb dog, among others.

“With a lot of other classes, it’s all just theoretical. You learn something and test on it,” said Rith Igout, an Advanced Criminal Justice student at Gainesville High. “In this class, you are exposed to so many people in many different careers in law and corrections.”

Recently, Bergman worked with Detective Michelle McAlister of the Prince William County Police Department to bring in officers to share meaningful conversations with students. Rather than participate in a simple question-and-answer session, the officers guest starred on four student-led podcasts. The criminal justice students moderated, driving the conversations about a variety of topics, including social media, mental health, and women in law enforcement.

“Aside from brainstorming, there were a lot of questions that just popped up while we were interviewing [the officers],” said Isabella Aversano, an Advanced Criminal Justice student at Gainesville and one of the podcast moderators. “It felt more like a roundtable [discussion]."

That was also due in part to the official setting of the project. By working in the school’s podcasting studio, students felt comfortable in the lead position. Isabella shared that "conducting the assignment in a professional setting with professional equipment made it feel very real."

While the students enjoyed exploring podcasting, they were also grateful to once again meet with working members of law enforcement. By connecting with professionals face-to-face, these students, including soon-to-be high school graduates, are more easily learning about career paths and visualizing post-secondary life.

“It would be easy for [Mr. Bergman] to give us a presentation on being a lawyer or what it’s like in law enforcement,” said Rith. “But, when you have these people come in and tell their story, it makes it a little easier to learn if you are interested in what they’re doing. Then, because they are right in front of you, you can try to get your foot in the door.”