Safety a tough subject to tackle

By Meryl Levesque - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Fri., Mar. 9, 2012
Turbo Turtle and 'Officer Phil' speak about stranger danger. Photos by Meryl Levesque.
Turbo Turtle and 'Officer Phil' speak about stranger danger. Photos by Meryl Levesque.

Kindergarteners, first- and second-graders and teachers attended an assembly at Spaulding School in Suffield on Monday, March 5. The presentation by Officer Phil and his puppets Turbo Turtle and Mac the Mouse engaged students on serious topics regarding bus and gun safety as well as stranger danger.

"Officer Phil,” so named after the company that was started in Philadelphia, began going to schools to bring the message of safety to children in a non-threatening manner. The company is now called Creative Safety, and Officer Phil is an employee of Creative Safety who has been bringing this interactive program to schools for 10 years now. He works in conjunction with local police departments to address issues that grammar school children need to know and to apply in real life situations.

Officer Terry Anthrum, a local policeman who serves as the school resource officer traveling between the four Suffield schools, introduced Officer Phil. Susie Doran, the administrative assistant to the principal at Spaulding School says that, “Officer Anthrum is like a rock star here!”

Anthrum had wanted to pursue his dream of not only being a policeman but to become involved in the school system. He attended special training to become the Resource Officer and has been involved in the Suffield schools since 2004. Though the assembly was an educational one, the students were totally engaged while Officer Phil and his puppets tackled tough subjects like bus and gun safety.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund figures quoted in 2010, “The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 3,042 children and teens died from gunfire in the U.S. in 2007 - one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 58 every week.”

The message that Officer Phil was trying to convey was that a child should never, ever touch a gun. They should immediately go and find a grown-up who can safely remove and disarm the gun.

Concerning bus safety, it is important for students to understand that the noise level in the bus can be very distracting to the bus driver and that they need to practice their VIP, "Very Important People” skills when on the school bus and be considerate and quiet when riding on the school bus.

One of the most important issues a parent should talk to their children about is “Stranger Danger.” According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time, resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day. Out of that number, 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions, 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions and 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping.

Officer Phil explained the steps students should take if a stranger approaches them. First yell, not yell like you are on the playground but yell as if your life depended on it. Yell fire, help, anything to let people know you are just not playing. Second run, someplace safe. Home, school, police station, someplace where you can do the third thing which is to dial 911. You and your child should talk about a safe place. Also, some families have a secret word they share, and only give to people who may be picking the children up from school should a family emergency occur.

Finally, the issue of computers and the dangers they hold was also discussed. All the students at the assembly agreed that they love to use computers to play games on, to talk with friends or to do homework. However, when the question was posed "is it okay to open mail from someone you don’t know?," a resounding “no” came from the crowd.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that, “Approximately one in seven youth online (10 to 17 years old) received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet. Four percent received an aggressive sexual solicitation - a solicitor who asked to meet them somewhere, called them on the telephone or sent them offline mail, money, or gifts. Thirty-four percent had an unwanted exposure to sexual material - pictures of naked people or people having sex and only 27 percent of the young people who encountered unwanted sexual material told a parent or guardian. If the encounter was defined as distressing - episodes that made them feel very or extremely upset or afraid - 42 percent told a parent or guardian.”

These topics are difficult, yet very important to share with your child, according to Officer Phil, who broached the subjects in a non-threatening and gentle manner. Parents or guardians looking for help or support when approaching a child with concerns regarding these important topics should contact their school's guidance department, social worker or school resource officer.

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