FBI gives grade schoolers a primer on crime scene investigations
Published 6:07 pm, Tuesday, November 28, 2017
"Who here has watched CSI?" asked Carol Ann Kromer, an operational support technician with the FBI, as she faced a group of fifth graders inside Atherton Elementary.
Almost every hand went up, and at once, the 10- and 11-year-olds started jabbering about the primetime TV crime drama. And then came the questions: "How do you deal with the dead bodies?" one asked. "What is, like, the most hardest thing about being in the FBI?"
It was "CSI Day" at Atherton, a field day the FBI puts on twice a year in partnership with the Harris Foundation through its Dare to Dream program. On Tuesday, fifth graders from Burrus, Hartsfield and Kennedy elementary schools were bused over to the Fifth Ward's Atherton Elementary as special agents and FBI support staff taught them how to lift fingerprints, how to examine shoe prints and tire impressions.
The idea behind the program, said its founder, former astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris, is to give kids in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas an opportunity to see themselves pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math. And to do that, Harris likes to bring professionals from places such as the FBI or ExxonMobile straight to the students.
At Atherton on Tuesday, many of them wanted to know what it takes to become a special agent. Many of them also wanted to know about the dead bodies. Carol Ann Kromer played it straight.
"There are some things about our jobs that are not so pleasant, to be honest with you. But somebody has to do it, because we have to give these families of the victims closure," she said. "With these TV shows, it's important to know: In the real world we don't solve crimes in an hour. It takes as long as it takes."
Harris, who became the first African-American astronaut to walk in space in 1995, founded Dare to Dream that same year.
The program's first partnership was with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, where Harris encountered scores of kids who were on the brink of adulthood but who had no idea what they wanted to do. Only two kids out of roughly 100, Harris said, raised their hand when asked if they had a career in mind. They said they wanted to be a basketball player, a football player.
"In looking at the full group, I realized something was missing," Harris said. "What was it? It was their ability to see themselves in the future. They're in these environments—the same environment that I grew up in—and their dreams have been dashed. They don't see hope, or they don't see anybody doing the things they want to do. So what we try to do in this program is instill dreams, and to get them to realize that they can do this."
Harris grew up near Washington Avenue in the 1960s, and recalled the area was full of shotgun houses and poverty rather than today's luxury townhomes and taco joints. His parents divorced when he was six , leaving his mother with two boys to raise on her own.
But while his dad had only a 10th grade education, his mother had a degree from Prairie View A&M—a distinction Harris always notes when telling the story to kids, as an example of the importance of higher education. She ended up getting a job with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and moved Harris and his brother to the Navajo Nation near Four Corners.
For the first time, Harris said, he could look up and see the stars.
Since then, he's traveled 7.2 million miles up there.
"If we didn't have the program here, how often do you think these kids would see an astronaut? Particularly an African-American astronaut? Very rare," Harris said. "They'd see it on TV, if they're lucky. So one of the benefits of this program is to come in and just tell that story: I was in your position at one point in time, and there is hope, and that hope lies in your ability to dream."
More than 100 kids among the four elementary schools took part in Tuesday's field day with the FBI.
Carol Ann Kromer, the FBI technician in charge of demonstrating the footprint and tire impression techniques, asked her third group how many of them knew what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Almost all of the hands went up. An engineer, one said. A doctor. One even said the president.