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Coming Full Circle

VPD Constable Mariya Zhalovaga is a Youth Liaison Officer at Windermere Secondary School. This year, she was one of the VPD Members who participated as instructors during the VPD Student Challenge – a Grade 11/12 “youth police academy” that runs during Spring Break.

On March 19, a class of 46 amazing students graduated from the Program. The Foundation has been involved with the Student Challenge since its inception in 1997 by providing funding and support. To date, over a thousand students have completed the program, and Cst. Zhalovaga is one of them.

Mariya’s story is a great example of how VPD’s work with youth, and with the support from our Foundation, is making a difference in young lives.

When we went to visit the participants of the Student Challenge last week, we learned of Mariya’s story and of the reason why she wanted to become an officer. Mariya moved to Canada when she was 13 years old and learned English while attending Eric Hamber Secondary. Already thinking about a career in social work, she applied to be in the Student Challenge and was accepted.

“The Student Challenge program helped me build my confidence. It provided me with team work and leadership skills. It inspired me to volunteer.” – Cst. Mariya Zhalovaga.

The Student Challenge takes kids behind the scenes and shows them what it takes to be a police officer. This is done through classroom simulations, legal studies, investigation training, and a three night/four day stay at Timberline Ranch in Maple Ridge. Here, the students experience an exhilarating and exhausting schedule including reality-based training scenarios, team challenges, and patrol shift simulations.

One of the learning objectives of the Challenge is to show that there is so much more to policing than the main-stream perceptions. Behind the scenes at a police department, there are many types of jobs, all which work together to keep our community safe. The program also teaches kids what it takes to be a leader in our community – a valuable life tool, even if they do not want to pursue a career in law enforcement.

Taking what she has learned as a VPD Officer, and from her time in the program, Mariya has these words about teaching in the program and how it changed her life:

“It feels absolutely amazing now being one of the officers teaching the kids in the student challenge. This has come full circle for me and I am so proud to be a part of the School Liaison Unit in the Youth Services Section. When I look at the participants in the program I remember that I was one of them not that long ago. It reminds me of all the hard work and dedication in achieving my career goals.

My goals for teaching this new generation of Student Challenge Participants are to instill the value of setting goals. I want to teach them the value of hard work and that they can accomplish anything when they put their mind and heart into it. I also want to teach them to never give up. It is important that they see how the Student Challenge program can impact their life in a positive way and lead them to success. It is important to give them an overview of policing and let them explore it”.

To date, Mariya and 20+ other participants have credited the Student Challenge as a catalyst for their career in law enforcement. The Foundation is honoured to have been able to help facilitate this remarkable program over the past 20 years.

Thank you Cst. Zhalovaga and the rest of the VPD Student Challenge team for inspiring the next generation of kids. We hope to hear more inspiring stories like this one.

Highlights from the 2017 Student Challenge


The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.

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