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Head of the class: Sheriff's fleet provides miles of fun for Head Start students

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By AJ Vicens

Nothing revs up a group of 3- to 5-year-olds like a room full of big, shiny vehicles with flashing lights just waiting to serve as their personal climbing gym.

And for 15 Head Start students who recently took a field trip to a garage housing the Jeffco sheriff’s vehicle fleet, smiles and laughter were in high gear.

The vehicles ranged from four-wheelers with snow tracks to an M113 tank to the bomb squad’s $150,000 robot. There was a standard-issue patrol car and a large snow-cat that’s used to reach remote mountain locations. There were police motorcycles and a sheriff’s Suburban holding two bloodhounds in their kennels.

“These kids just like to climb on stuff,” said Rusty Hardy, the sheriff’s fleet manager of seven years.

Hardy enjoys the break from his usual work maintaining the fleet.

“We always love to show off our equipment,” he said. “Younger kids are the best. They just live in the moment.”

Hardy had muffled the vehicles’ sirens so the kids were free to push all the buttons and blast the horns. He did concede that high-tech isn’t necessarily the biggest draw among the younger set, pointing to the bomb squad’s robot, the most expensive piece of equipment in the room.

“They run right past that and jump right on that garden mower,” he said, pointing to a standard green John Deere.

Head Start is a county-run comprehensive preschool for low-income families. Jefferson County’s Head Start serves 406 families in Jefferson, Clear Creek, Park and Gilpin counties. The group that visited March 12 was from the Head Start school in Edgewater.

Before the kids set off to play among the vehicles, Hardy made them all honorary deputies by affixing a badge sticker on each child’s shirt. Then the kids spent the better part of an hour climbing on the vehicles, pressing the horns, sounding the sirens and pretending to drive the big, bruising equipment.

“I like police!” shouted one young boy as he ran toward the patrol car.

“Any time we can connect with kids, we’re willing to do it,” said Sheriff Ted Mink, who sported a wide smile from the moment he walked into the garage. Mink said he was part of the Head Start Foundation from 2005 to 2008, when the foundation worked to build a new school.

“They’re learning that police are safe people, and that they can help us,” said Karen Walker, the lead teacher with the group. The children had also been learning recently about cars and vehicles, so the trip to see the sheriff’s fleet was a good supplement, Walker said.

Olivia, a shy 5-year-old, kept it concise when she described her experience.

“I like to turn the lights on and drive the cars,” she said.

Not all the kids were completely satisfied, though. One boy asked Hardy if he could see a “space rocket,” but Hardy had to admit there were none on the premises.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.