Members of the Mexico and Rumford fire and police departments attend a barbecue Wednesday at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico. Fire science instructor Jon Longley said it was an opportunity for students and first responders to bond. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

MEXICO — Students at Region 9 School of Applied Technology and local police officers and firefighters were treated to a barbecue on the first day of classes Wednesday.

Among the guests: Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed with several members of his department, Mexico Fire Chief Richie Jones with some of his staff and Mexico Police Chief Roy Hodson and his staff.

Students at Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico attend their first day of classes Wednesday. From left: Ian Sanders, Andrew Young, Matthew Crocker-Walton, Jacob True and Lucas Malley, all in their second year studying computer technology. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

Fire science instructor Jon Longley said the emergency workers were invited was to give students opportunities for “personalized connections.”

“There is a stigma that if the police or emergency responders are at a school, that it’s not good,” he said. “We want to get rid of that stereotype or stigma. We want them to become more humanized so that they can be recognized (positively). We want all of these first responders to build some sort of bond with our students.”

Staff members Jen Whittemore, Chris Barlow, Pam Rideout, Dawn Leahy, Mark Beaudoin and Randy Gallant helped with food preparation and cooking.

Several students in the fire science program shared why they had enrolled.

Mitch Dunbar of Rumford, who is in his second year, said he was “hooked” in seventh grade after he learned about the program at a firefighter demonstration at Region 9.

First-year student Hannah St. Laurent of Rumford said she also saw a firefighter demonstration in seventh grade and became interested in the program.

Jamison LaBreque of Bethel, whose stepfather is with the Woodstock Fire Department, said he wanted to learn more about firefighting so he signed up this year.

The career and technical education school offers 12 programs, including automotive technology, building construction, truck driving and forestry/wood harvesting, computer technology and culinary arts.

Of the 175 students enrolled at Region 9 this fall, 92 started Wednesday and the rest begin Thursday, Gammon said.

They come from Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Dirigo High School in Dixfield, Telstar High School in Bethel or have been home-schooled.

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