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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    New London senior pursues police badge in father’s memory

    New London High School senior Serenity Francis listens during New London Police Department’s Youth Citizens’ Police Academy class Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at the New London Police Station. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London High School’s Serenity Francis does push-ups during her weekly New London Police Department’s Youth Citizens’ Police Academy on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at New London High School. The group usually meets at the police department. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London High School’s Serenity Francis does push-ups with Officer Christina Nocito checking that her chest hits the target during her weekly New London Police Department’s Youth Citizens’ Police Academy on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at New London High School. The group usually meets at the police department. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Editor’s note: The Day publishes an annual series of stories spotlighting outstanding seniors graduating from the region’s 16 public and private high schools.

    New London ― Serenity Francis was 9 when her father was found shot to death in a Spring Street basement apartment.

    “Around the same time, my mom was in and out of jail, so she wasn’t around when my father was killed in his sleep, shot in the head,” the 18-year-old New London High School senior said. “I started acting out, getting into fights and having other behavior problems.”

    But a combination of self-awareness and a strong school support system enabled Francis to come to terms with her trauma and essentially recreate herself as a college-bound academic, athlete and aspiring FBI agent.

    Francis, whose weeks are filled with schoolwork, practices and a grueling work schedule, is slated to attend Central Connecticut State University after graduation with the goal of transferring to the University of New Haven as a political science major.

    Francis speaks matter-of-factly about the March 2015 murder of her father, 31-year-old Floyd Fooks Jr., and the years of buried trauma it created.

    “My family is Caribbean and don’t go in for things like therapy, but for some reason in middle school I figured something needed to change,” she said. “I didn’t like the way I was acting. I had temper issues and a lot of anger, and I asked for help. But things really didn’t start changing for me until my sophomore year. It took time and patience.”

    Help during the next few years came in the form of several New London school district leaders, including high school Principal Bryan Mahon, who marveled at the changes Francis’ personality underwent in a few short years.

    “She was much more focused on drama in the beginning,” Mahon said. “She can still be feisty, but when she makes a mistake now, she owns it. She’s always sought out adults she could connect with. But that impact goes both ways.”

    Francis’ fascination with law enforcement work, which partly grew out of watching “a lot of cop TV shows,” led her to join the New London Police Department’s Youth Citizens Police Academy ― she's now in her second year with the group. She was also earned a spot last year at the prestigious Yale University Future Law Enforcement Youth Academy.

    New London police Community Resource Officer Christina Nocito, who oversees the cadet program, said Francis’ often reserved exterior belies a passionate core.

    “She pushes other cadets to speak up and has inspired some of them to apply for that FBI leadership program,” Nocito said.

    Francis, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who moved to New London when she was 6, is serving her second year with the school’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and decided, in her senior year, to join the school’s lacrosse team.

    “I’m out there six times a week and work four to five days at my two jobs,” said Francis, who works at DICK’S Sporting Goods in Waterford and at the Famous Footwear Outlet at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “My days usually end at midnight.”

    Assistant Principal Jessyca Campbell called Francis a “natural born leader” whose experiences seem to have bred an instinct for empathy.

    “She’ll get into that mom role and come up sometimes just to ask if I’ve eaten that day,” Campbell said.

    Francis, the high school’s student ambassador, said her quest to wear a badge is directly linked to her father’s death.

    “I want to stop violence from happening,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else ― kids or their parents ― to go through that.”

    j.penney@theday.com

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