radKIDS: Self-defense program empowers Tewksbury students

A recent successful radKIDS program came to an end with some Tewksbury fourth grade students showing off their work. The program is run by several police officers including School Resource Officer James Ryser (left) and Officer Eric Hanley (right).

There’s a new program in Tewksbury for fourth grade students. It’s pretty rad (pun intended).

Police officers Jim Ryser, Doug Pratt, Kim O’Keefe, Jennie Welch, and Eric Hanley, with the support of Police Chief Timothy Sheehan, have brought the program radKIDS to Tewksbury elementary schools to help students learn how to deal with bullies, protect themselves, understand the difference between good touching and bad, and stranger danger (how to protect themselves from child predators).

School Resource Officer Ryser said that the program began 10 years ago as an “offering to elementary students as an extra after school activity, but was somewhat difficult for the younger students to understand and follow along.”

This, he said, lead to the Police Department and the schools coming together and deciding that it would work best for fourth grade students as “they are a little older and would benefit most from the program before leaving their ‘neighborhood schools’ and merging with all the other students their age in town at the Ryan for fifth grade.”

The class is taught during school, specifically during gym period. It’s taught for 10 weeks by the officers listed above who are all radKIDS certified. The rad program also exists for adult men and women and seniors. Tewksbury currently only offers the rad program for kids and women.

The radADULTS programs for women is taught by police officer Scott Gaynor and deals more with rape and sexual assault prevention. There’s no radADULTS program for men or seniors in Tewksbury yet due to lack of interest for the men and lack of staffing for seniors.

For the kids, the program is all about safety. Police officers constantly promote public safety in schools (not to mention around town). Therefore, it focuses on bullying prevention, preventing/stopping predator tricks including physical resistance strategies against abduction, Internet safety, personal touch and personal space safety featuring “Sam’s Secret,” and home, school, out-and-about safety (parks, fairs, playgrounds, beaches, stores, malls) all through the eyes of a child.

The radKIDS program is similar for both fourth grade boys and girls.

Although it’s only existed in Tewksbury for approximately 10 years, the program was conceived in 2000 and is locally headquartered in South Dennis. It’s a national program with main offices in Louisiana.

According to radKIDS.org, the program “is the national leader in children’s safety . . . and is brought to children and parents by the training and development of nationally certified instructors, professional educators, school teachers, law enforcement educators/School Resource Officers, recreation and health professionals, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA’s and perhaps most importantly parent volunteers.”

Gaynor said that in Tewksbury gym teachers and aides will often assist the class.

Some statistics about radKIDS include:

• 250,000 children have been trained in the radKIDS personal empowerment safety education program

• More than 480 community-based instructors have been trained in over 46 states and Canada

• 96 children threatened with abduction used their skills and returned safely to their families

• Hundreds of children spoke up and got the help they needed to stop the abuse

Gaynor said that there is a test after the 10 weeks are up where the students practice what they learned on officers wearing protective suits. (There’s also a similar test for the adult program where those officers take more of a beating from the adult women.)

Students can, for whatever reason, drop out of the program or not take it at all. However, Gaynor noted that the students seem to enjoy the program and want to take it. He added that all students are included in the program, even the special needs students.

Because the program is run during school hours, it’s obviously free. The radADULTS program for women is also free. Gaynor said for that program the goal is to have no less than 10 women sign up without exceeding 30. Tewksbury offers two classes a year, then the women take the test. The officer added that women can always take the test again for free.

Each officer is certified specifically for kids, men, women and seniors. While Gaynor runs the women’s program, he’s not certified to run the kids’ one (nor would he be certified to run the men’s program were it to start up). In order to remain certified, instructors must teach at least two classes a year.

To obtain certification, officers, teachers, recreation professionals, sexual assault counselors or concerned parents must take a five-day 40-hour certification course detailing the core curriculum. Candidates will receive information on teaching children about school safety, home safety, out-and-about safety, vehicle safety, strangers and tricks (including physical defense skills), and personal safety (including personal space and personal touch-good, bad, and unwanted touch).

In addition to the core curriculum, the Instructor Program addresses the handling of realistic defense against abduction, assault or harm, sexual abuse prevention and reporting, realistic and effective bullying prevention, decreasing program liability, and getting your program started.

All officers are trained in CPR and First Aid, though thankfully Gaynor acknowledged there hasn’t been an injury to a student in all the time they’ve offered the kids’ and women’s programs. He did admit, though, he’s suffered some injuries from working with the women.

According to the website, the radKIDS program is also offered in Reading through officers David Clark, Richard Abate, Michelle Halloran, and Kristen O’Shaughnessy; Stoneham through officer Edward Fucarile; Wakefield through officers Kelley Tobyne and Jason Skillings; Burlington through officers Stephen Cross, Keith Sheppard, Anne Marie Browne, Glen Mills, and Scott Lauder; and Winchester through officers Daniel Arria and James Cogan. It is also offered independently in Wilmington (Steven La Rivee) and Stoneham (Kathleen Conary and Kevin Cantwell).

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