Arlington students get a lesson in safety from top officials

ARLINGTON -- With exuberant shouts of "911," the children at Speer Elementary School made it clear that they know what to do if they or someone close to them is in trouble.

Arlington Superintendent Jerry McCullough and Police Chief Theron Bowman were at the school Tuesday visiting with five classes of second- and third-graders as the city kicked off a month of observance for Take 25, a national effort that encourages parents and other caregivers to take 25 minutes to talk to their kids about safety.

"If you go somewhere that is really crowded and get lost, stay calm and find someone that has a uniform or a badge, like a security guard or a police officer, or someone who works there," Bowman said while sitting on a bench in the school library with McCullough. "This is very, very, very important."

Each year in the United States, an estimated 800,000 children are reported missing, according to the center. About 200,000 of those are abducted by relatives and 58,000 by nonrelatives.

Bowman and McCullough asked the children, who sat attentively on the floor, what they would do if they were in trouble. Then the children were coached to report things to adults, especially if they are approached by strangers.

They also told them what information shouldn't be shared on the Internet and what to do if they get lost in a crowded place like a theme park or the zoo. And, of course, they told them that there is always safety in numbers.

Nine-year-old Pamela Aguilar, a third-grader, said that although she's the youngest of four, she'd tell her two sisters and brother what she learned: "Call 911 in an emergency and find a person in uniform."

Bowman said it was obvious by the children's willingness to raise their hands for questions -- and then blurt out correct answers to his question -- that they were learning the important things about stranger danger from their parents and teachers.

"We are glad to be a partner with the Arlington Police Department to encourage parents and guardians to take 25 minutes to talk to their children about personal safety," McCullough said.

The Arlington Police Department will continue the campaign through National Missing Children's Day on May 25, with special presentations at Arlington Boys & Girls Clubs branches. The nation has observed the day since 1983.

ELIZABETH ZAVALA, 817-390-7418

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