05/24/05 — Students learn safe way to be 'home alone'

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Students learn safe way to be 'home alone'

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 24, 2005 1:49 PM

Fourth graders at Meadow Lane Elementary School know they are not supposed to talk to strangers. But when asked exactly who a stranger is, they had a difficult time defining one. Most agreed that a stranger is someone they don't know who appears suspicious in some way.

Volunteers with the Wayne County Chapter of the American Red Cross took that a step further.

It was part of the Home Alone Safety 2005 program that volunteers with the Red Cross gave to all kindergarten through fifth grade classes in Wayne County's public schools and at some of the private schools.

The purpose of the program, according to Chuck Waller, local Red Cross director, is to educate students in stranger identification and empower them with techniques and knowledge that will keep them safe.

"We are trying to get them to understand that they can't look at somebody and tell if he is good or bad," Waller said. "So if they use the rule that a stranger is someone they or their family doesn't know, then that takes the pressure off them of having to decide if that person is good or bad."

This was the fifth year of the Home Alone program. Abduction prevention techniques were taught to 9,000 students in the local schools. They learned about what a stranger is and how to identify common tricks that strangers use.

At each presentation, one of the two Red Cross volunteers dressed in a trench coat, hat and glasses and walked around the room. This was to show the students that the person was indeed a stranger because of the way he looked, but that there are others who look just like a normal person who are also strangers.

They explained to the students that some people appear to be nice, but may be dangerous.

The volunteers also role played with the students to identify tricks that people use to lure children out of the school. For example, the volunteer asked one of the students if he would take the volunteer to the school office. Then the volunteer explained that students should never do this if the person is someone they don't know.

At Meadow Lane, Teresa Williams, Red Cross disaster coordinator, pointed out that since the students had not met her, she was actually a stranger to them. She told the students that "we hope you are never in a situation with a stranger, but if you are, we want you to know what to do."

She and Red Cross volunteer Susan Parris listed some rules children should be aware of to avoid being abducted such as always walking or riding their bike with a friend and always getting their parents' permission before riding or going with anyone.

Some of the tricks that strangers use to abduct children include wearing badges that lead children to believe they are an official when they are not and seeing a child's name on his book bag or a magnet on his car and then calling the child by name when in reality, the stranger doesn't know that child.

A stranger sometimes will ask a child to help him find his lost dog, playing on the child's emotions, when the stranger really just wants to get that child in his car to abduct him.

Mrs. Williams and Ms. Parris told the students to always put their name on the inside of their book bag and never on the outside of their parent's car and always tell their parents or another adult in charge where they will be at all times.

They urged the students to always walk facing traffic because it's harder for a stranger to pull up beside a student walking with traffic and pull him into the car.

The volunteers also told the students to have a secret code word with their parents. Then if someone comes up to them and says the child's parents sent him to get the child, that person should have the code word.

"Only give the person one chance to tell you the code word," stressed Mrs. Williams. "Don't let him keep guessing because he may eventually guess it. And change your code word frequently."

Other tips to help the children not become abduction victims were to never take anything from a stranger, never get into a vehicle with a stranger, don't listen to a stranger's sad story and be extra careful at the bus stop of strangers offering them a ride.

If a stranger tries to abduct a student, the Red Cross teaches them to use the "SKY" rule -- scream, kick and yell. And the student should yell very loudly "You are not my mom. You are not my dad. I don't know you.