By Jackie James

Like a challenge? If you are a teenager, sophomore to senior, check out the Mesa Police Department’s Youth Leadership Academy, a free, annual program that combines physical and mental agility tests. It’s a two-week program, held each summer, at the Mesa Police and Fire Training Facility, that teaches life skills and leadership through teambuilding events, classroom instruction, and physical activities. Not interested in a law enforcement career? That’s okay; this program isn’t just for students interested in becoming police officers—it’s geared at helping students become leaders in their schools and communities.

While this program offers numerous physical challenges, don’t let anyone tell you they take it easy on the girls; they are held to the same standards as the boys. Skyler, a recent academy graduate and high-school junior, attended this year’s program with her twin brother, and found herself repelling down the same seven story tower as her male counterparts. But Skyler’s adventure wasn’t just limited to scaling buildings; she maneuvered the six-foot brick wall during the obstacle course, survived a workout with the Marines, and even carried a fire hose up two flights of stairs. Girl power!

“When you’re a girl, the male(s) underestimate you at first, and the whole thing is intimidating,” Skyler explained. “By the second day, you’re all like a family, and they became by brothers. They called me the ‘try-hard’ of the group because I always raised my hand to volunteer.” She and many of her classmates continue to stay in touch.

Since this was Skyler’s second year in attendance, she knew what to expect, and fully plans to attend again next year. This year, she said that the program gave her a new-found confidence and that she “came out of her shell”. The officers noted the change in her demeanor from last year—a shy, quiet student to a confident, self-assured young woman. “It was an (eye) opening experience; you’re like a new person,” Skyler said.

Each year, the academy changes based on feedback from the participants. The Virtra simulator, where the students are virtually transported to real-life police situations, is a favorite. Skyler thought the officers this year expected more from each student, and that the Marines’ workout was even more strenuous this time. She noted there were more outdoor activities, and she had her favorites.

“The day we got tasered was my favorite,” she smiled. “It was a rush, and (being tasered) gives me bragging rights! I also enjoyed riding the cop car with the officer (during the defensive driving course)”, a new activity that was introduced this year. Skyler’s least favorite class? “The last class, because it was our last one.”

She also learned a lot, too. In addition to physical challenges, Skyler said they learned about responsibility, leadership, how to work as a team, and how to rely on their individual instincts. In the future, Skyler would like to use her academy experience to pursue a career as a crime scene investigator, or a detective. She met other students who were interested in business administration, joining the military, and even kids who just wanted to build their character.

Ready to show the boys that you have what it takes both mentally and physically? Visit the City of Mesa Police Facebook page for photographs, videos, and more information. Applications can be obtained from your high school’s Student Resource Officer (SRO) or from and are accepted in the spring for the summer program.