There are not many 15-year-olds who can say they rode shotgun as an FBI agent drove 120 mph during a spin at the Tactical Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (TEVOC) where agent trainees learn how to drive safely and effectively.

Then again, not many teens spend a week at the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA) Youth Leadership Program at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. Lauren Compton, who will start her sophomore year at La Plata High School on Aug. 29, uncovered the program while Googling “FBI summer camps.”

Initially applying when she was 14 and not accepted, Compton tried again for a spot this year and was selected to attend the eight-day program at the FBI Academy on the Marine Corps Base in Quantico.  

The program appeared to offer students an introduction to the career field Compton is interested in pursuing. “I want to be an FBI agent,” she said. “I love puzzles. Everything from mystery shows to crosswords.”

The summer program is limited to 62 participants who hail from 40 U.S. states and four countries. To be accepted, students have to meet high academic standards and display good citizenship. The teens stay at a hotel near the Quantico base and attend courses on — among other subjects — the fundamentals of leadership, time management, ethical leadership, social media, and internet survival. They also engage in fitness activities and field trips.

Courses were taught by retired agents who shared their experiences with the campers, revealing that the reality isn’t as glamourous as what is portrayed on television and in film. Another element of the program was hands-on activities, such as the TEVOC training and a tour of Hogan’s Alley, a mock town used by agents to train.

“They taught the kids how to bust down doors and to clear rooms,” Compton’s mother, Carolyn, said. “It was really cool,” Compton said.

While the week was filled with activities and lessons that Compton believes will serve her well — students learned financial literacy, how to manage life’s changes, and the power of persuasion (“She practices that one on me and her father,” Carolyn joked) — Compton counted the friendships she made as her favorite part of the program. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to such a big group of kids in such a short time,” she said.

The comradery built over eight days of the program left a mark on one of Compton’s souvenirs — a yellow brick indicating she completed the Yellow Brick Road, a fitness challenge completed by FBI agent trainees built by U.S. Marines through a hill-studded wooded trail.

Trainees who finish the course receive a yellow brick to commemorate the accomplishment. Teens in the youth program complete a somewhat modified challenge — the course is cut down a bit from 6.1 miles to a little more than 3 miles, along with obstacles. The students receive a yellow brick too — one many of them used as a sort of a yearbook having their fellow campers sign it during the program’s closing ceremonies.

Closer to home

The tenacity she showed to make it through the program is a trait not new to Compton. She dedicates herself to her academics and extracurricular activities. She was a member of the La Plata golf team last year having just taken up the game in August 2019. She plays flute in the school band and is learning the oboe. Compton has been a member of the Charles County Youth Orchestra’s Encore Band since she was in the fifth grade. She is a member of the Charles County Teen Court, La Plata’s Student Government Association (SGA), and the school’s Show Troupe. Last year, Compton placed first in the school talent show by performing an Irish dance. She has been taking Irish dance lessons since she was very young when it became evident to her parents that ballet was not going to hold her attention.

“Lauren is a very energetic, sweet young lady. She always came to class with a smile on her face, and a ‘fact of the day’ for me,” Mandy Pickens, an English teacher at La Plata, said. “She is always eager to learn and participate in class. She is that student all teachers hope to have and the one we wish we had a full classroom full of.”

Outside of school, Compton stays active in the community through her nonprofit, Tunes and Tales. She plays the harp at area venues and events – such as Landon’s Ices and Creams, Rita’s Italian Ice, the Charles County Youth Triathlon, and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs home games — and gives away books to young readers. The books, which she collects through donations, are free to those who want them.

Giving back to the community is a trait rooted in the Compton family. “It’s important for my family to do community service,” Carolyn said. “Both Lauren and [her brother], Jack, have their own community service project.” Community service broadens its scope as part of a larger community. “It’s an opportunity for them to work on their leadership and responsibility,” Carolyn said. “We get so caught up in schoolwork during the year — she’s in all honors classes. Lauren is a super busy kid, but that’s not a reason to fall inside yourself and have your world be only about yourself.”

While Compton focuses on Tunes and Tales, her younger brother, Jack, has his own service project called Musical Traditions, playing the clarinet for residents of the Charlotte Hall Veteran’s Home.

Compton is already researching summer camps and programs for next year — she’s not one to miss an opportunity to take on a new challenge or gain new skills. She is also cultivating a list of colleges and military academies to find the best fit for her after high school.

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