Officer Phil Child Safety Program adjusts over time
In order to teach kids how to protect themselves in an increasingly threatening world, McKeesport Area School District and local police turned to two longtime allies for help: puppets and magic.
The Officer Phil Child Safety Program, which has been teaching children the dangers of strangers since the '70s, visited Twin Rivers primary and intermediate schools on Friday afternoon aided by members of the McKeesport Police Department.
“When we all work together to help keep our community safe, it works almost like magic,” said presenter “Miss” Marjie McKee before a group of third-graders at the intermediate school along Sumac Street. “Doesn't everyone like magic?”
Using colorful tricks and an appearance by Lucky the Duck, McKee packed a wealth of tips on personal safety and life lessons into an interactive 30-minute show. From crossing the street to confronting bullies to logging online, McKee said kids are increasingly presented with hidden dangers even parents may not suspect.
“If you're playing a game with somebody on the Internet and you've never met that person before, what does that make them?” McKee asked. The students emphatically responded, “A stranger!”
McKee continued, “If you were outside and someone walked up to you and asked for your name, your phone number and where you live, you wouldn't tell them, would you? So don't tell strangers on the Internet stuff about yourself either. One of those ‘kids' could be a bad stranger pretending to be a kid.”
McKeesport police Sgt. Detective Adam Alfer joined McKee onstage for the entire presentation and, much to the students' delight, he even pulled out a few magic tricks of his own. Alfer said community programs like Officer Phil are vital to teaching children how to be safe and think for themselves.
“We don't have the time or manpower to dedicate to putting together great presentations like this,” he said. “It teaches things every one of these kids should know at an early age and it really does a good job of grabbing their attention.”
School district spokeswoman Kristen Giran said part of the reason police are asked to participate with the program is to help students build healthy relationships with officers.
“It's really good for the kids to become familiar with the police to create a sense of community,” she said. “This gives kids comfort about police and helps them realize they're all just regular people who are here to help.”
McKee said the Officer Phil program makes between 450 and 500 presentations each year, with some presenters performing up to four times a day.
“It's entirely community-supported. There's no cost to the school or the police department,” she said. “And it's all to teach kids all about safety, which is the most important thing we can do.”
Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org.