RadKIDS program offers "cool" tips for safety

By Janet Hefler

The Aquinnah police department is spearheading a safety education program, radKIDS, which helps children ages five to 12 prepare for emergencies and protect themselves from bullying, abduction, and sexual assault. Ryan Ruley, an Aquinnah police officer, recently was certified as a radKIDS instructor after attending a three-day, 30-hour training program in Topsfield.

The program's description in an optional training bulletin caught Officer Ruley's eye, and he asked Randhi Belain, chief of police, about attending. The chief came up with the $425 course fee and associated costs through a community policing grant.

"Chief Belain went out on a limb and was willing to sponsor me for the training and get the ball rolling," Officer Ruley said.

Now that Officer Ruley is a certified radKIDS instructor, he would like to hold his first classes, recruit more instructors and expand the program Island-wide. The 10-hour course is usually offered as an after-school, recreation, or day camp activity through parent-teacher organizations, church groups, and scouting and youth organizations.

Officer Ruley said he would be happy to speak to any group about the radKIDS program and help set up classes. "Call us, and we will spearhead this," he said.

Instruction is structured for two age levels, 5 to 7 and 8 to 12. Parents are encouraged to attend the classes with their children.

Classes cover home, school, and vehicle safety, "out and about safety," and Internet safety. Younger children practice dialing 9-1-1 on a real phone and giving accurate information to emergency personnel.

Lessons on "stranger tricks" include physical defense skills against being attacked or abducted. Children learn body-blocking moves and how to use their legs and hands to prevent somebody from harming them. They also learn how to get away from an aggressor using a "distract and run" technique.

"This is not karate training. The word ‘fight' is never used. We teach them to defend themselves, get away and get help," Officer Ruley explained. "We're not going to teach anybody's kids to beat anyone up."

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The program also emphasizes self-esteem building and empowering children by teaching them to think on their feet, Officer Ruley said.

He estimates the class will cost about $25 to cover start-up costs, paperwork and a certificate for each child, complete with a photo and fingerprint. All children who attend the program may return for additional sessions free of charge until their 12th birthday.

"My personal goal is hopefully someday this will be offered in our school system," Officer Ruley said, perhaps included in physical education programs in all of the Island schools, as it is in Provo, Utah.

For many parents and children, Officer Ruley will be a familiar face. A native Islander who graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1998, he worked last year as the high school's campus supervisor and continues to coach football and baseball there. He graduated from the police academy in 2002 and joined Aquinnah's police department in November 2005.

Long-term, Officer Ruley's goal is to become a radKIDS instructor trainer. Besides educators, police officers, recreation professionals, and parents, "Anyone can be trained to be an instructor," he said. More than 1,800 instructors in the U.S. and Canada now serve in the non-profit organization.

Stephen Daley, the executive director of radKIDS, has offered to hold an instructors' training class on the Vineyard if Officer Ruley can sign up 15 to 24 adults. If interested, call him at 508-645-2313. The cost is $425 per person.

RadKIDS is an offshoot of radWomen, a self-defense program for women against male aggressors. ("Rad" stands for "resisting aggression defensively.")

Seeking to offer something similar to children, a group of law enforcement professionals, self-defense experts and parents started the radKIDS Personal Empowerment Safety Program in 1999.

RadKIDS, however, exists as a separate and very different program, focusing less on self-defense and more on teaching children decision-making skills along with methods to physically protect themselves from violence and harm.

The radKIDS web site, www.radKIDS.org, reports that since the program's inception, instructors have documented hundreds of disclosures and escapes from sexual assault and sexual abuse.

Since radKIDS began, 25 children have used the skills they learned from it to escape abduction, Officer Ruley said. "If even one kid is saved, then this program is worthwhile," he pointed out.


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