First Graders Hear Stranger Danger Message - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

02/06/04

First Graders Hear Stranger Danger Message

A familiar program called "Stranger Danger" is one way of educating children to try and avoid child abductions.

For three years now, the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Junior Auxiliary has brought the child safety program to area elementary schools.

The program uses puppets to promote a series of safety tips to six and seven year olds. "Stranger Danger" not only deals with preventing child abductions, it also includes an "age appropriate" discussion of child abuse and molestation.

A group of first graders at Gorenflo Elementary paid close attention Friday afternoon.

"A man tried to pick her up. And Abby seems scared of her uncles," said one of three colorful puppets on the stage at Gorenflo Elementary.

The trio of puppets tackled some serious issues. The first grade audience is both entertained and educated.

"I feel all children, no matter the age, should be aware. I'm the mother of a four year old and an eight year old. And no matter what, all children should be aware of the dangers," said Cristi Hilton, a first grade teacher.

"Does your uncle touch you in places that are frightening for you?", an older puppet asked of the younger one.

Cute puppets are an age appropriate means of discussing sensitive, even embarrassing subjects. But teachers say these first graders are a bright bunch.

Lashonda Ruffin is a teacher assistant.

"The first graders, they're very alive and very aware. And they know a lot more than they let on a lot of the time. So, they'll benefit from it," she said.

Margaret Cowley has been a teacher for 15 years. She says youngsters need the assurance that they can confide in their parents or teachers.

"Whether the problem's at home or with a stranger. If something happens on their way home from school, they need to tell somebody about it," Cowley said.

Now in its third year, the Junior Auxiliary program is already producing results.

"We actually even had a couple instances where a child has told a parent or a teacher after one of our puppet shows. So, we feel like we are in this day and age, serving a purpose," said Kristi Davis of the Junior Auxiliary.

"You did the right thing. Always run from a stranger who tries to get you as fast as you can," said one of the puppets.

Those involved with the "Stranger Danger" program say communication with kids is the key. And it shouldn't be confined to school. Parents need to have serious discussions with their children about these same issues.

By Steve Phillips

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