Children attending the radKIDS program learn techniques for protecting themselves against abduction from instructors Rob Murphy, who is a detective, and Joan Fiesta, who is a sergeant with the UI police. Parents who bring their children to the five-day training program for 5- to 12-year-olds are encouraged to participate in the classes so that they learn the techniques along with their children.
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nstead of spending the waning days of summer vacation honing their dribbling and passing, or their backstrokes, some young people who come to the UI campus will be developing skills that could one day save their lives.
For the third year, the Division of Public Safety is offering the radKIDS® Personal Empowerment and Safety Education Program for children ages 5-12. The program, being held this week, is based partially upon the techniques of Rape Aggression Defense, a self-defense program for women, also taught by the UI police.
According to Rob Murphy, who is a detective with the UI police and one of the UI's two radKIDS® instructors, another instructor once used the program's techniques to defend herself when a stranger followed her into the women's bathroom at a highway rest stop.
"She used one of the techniques that we teach them in the kids' class and ended up bloodying the guy's nose," Murphy said.
The radKIDS® curriculum covers a broad range of safety topics applicable to young people, as well as physical defense against attempted abduction, including general safety at home, at school and in the car; bullying; fire safety; and good-bad-uncomfortable touching.
"The training puts the kids in charge of their destiny somewhat, to where they're not afraid to speak up," Murphy said. "If they're in a store and someone tries to take them, or they've lost their parents and the clerk's not paying attention to them, we teach them techniques to get attention. Some of the kids are shy the first day, but by the end of it, even the shyest ones are shouting."
Parents are encouraged to actively participate in the classes, which are held at the Asian American Cultural Center, "so they can learn the techniques along with the kids," Murphy said.
"It's really a safety course that parents and kids can work together on to make their lives safer," and includes homework activities such as creating fire-escape plans for the home and clearing household cabinets of poisons, said Sgt. Joan Fiesta, who is certified as an instructor in both the R.A.D. and the radKIDS® programs. "And it really puts the onus on the child to make good positive choices, but if a child forgets and makes a mistake, we also give them the physical and practical ways to get themselves out of a situation. We train their instincts to go to safety (techniques). And if they have to poke a bad guy in the eye, they can do it."
The classes last for five days, with 5- to 7-year-olds training from noon to 2 p.m. and 8- to 12-year-olds training from 2 to 4 p.m. The classes average about 13 children each.
Since radKIDS® began in 1998, about 125,000 children in 45 U.S. states and Canada have been trained in the techniques, according to the program's Web site.
In addition to offering summer sessions at the UI, Fiesta also has conducted training at Parkland College and for local Girl Scout troops, area churches and schools, including Leal School in Urbana, where she volunteers and where the radKIDS® program has been incorporated into the physical education curriculum.
"A couple of times a week I go there for a half hour and we go through the drills," Fiesta said. "The kids really seem to love it and are able to retain it pretty well. We try to keep it as light and fun as possible, even when we're covering gun safety, but it's done in a way that we're training their instincts."
As with the R.A.D. training for women, alumni of radKIDS® can attend refresher sessions for free anywhere they're offered by showing their certificate of completion until their 12th birthdays. In addition, 13-year-olds can assist with the training as peer mentors.
"The idea of peer mentoring is to create a community, with the older kids being responsible for the younger kids, and it gives the kids someone cool to look up to because we adults don't tend to be very cool," Fiesta said.
Instructors become certified in the program's safety curricula by attending a three-day course. Potential instructors are subject to a background check.
More instructors are needed to help expand the local program, and Fiesta encouraged people interested in becoming instructors to contact her by e-mail at email@example.com or call 333-1216.