By Terry Cregar
SIMPSONVILLE — More than 300 middle school students and their parents received some expert advice on child safety during a two-hour seminar at St. Mary Magdalene Parish.
Cindy Roth, the parish’s director of religious education, invited two deputies from the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office to address students and parents in separate sessions.
While the adult sessions focused on keeping children protected from child molestation and sexual assault, child abduction was the topic for the youths.
“You’re never too old to learn to be safe,” Deputy Chris Pelt told the children. He compared the effort to learning how to play sports.
“Like any sports you play, you get better with practice,” he said. “It’s the same with being safe.”
Pelt, who has worked with school-age children through the Sheriff’s Office’s DARE Program, talked to the students about personal safety mea-sures children can take at home, at school and when out in public places like shopping malls.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” he said.
Pelt also talked with the students about telephone and Internet safety, focusing specifically on current popularity of online chat rooms.
“Treat everyone you talk to online as a stranger,” Pelt said. “Never give out information about yourself over the Internet. There are people on the Internet who have nothing but bad intentions.”
Pelt said that 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year.
Parish officials decided to hold the seminar in the wake of the string of child abductions reported in recent months, primarily in the Western U.S.
“We felt we should try to get something going,” said Jim Coen, an administrative assistant and fifth-grade religious education teacher at the parish, something that would give the kids and their parents the tools to prevent similar tragedies here.
Following the separate child/parent sessions, the two were brought back together to complete an “Identification Passport” for each student.
The passport, which can be updated as the child grows, is a small booklet that lists the child’s name, nickname, date of birth, father, mother, siblings and their dates of birth, and any identifying marks.
Each booklet also includes an up-to-date photo of the child, height, weight, hair and eye color. During the session at the parish, each child was weighed, had their height measured, and had their hands fingerprinted.
Mary Ann Gonzalez watched as her son, Ryan, went through the passport process.
“It’s a wonderful program,” Mrs. Gonzalez said. “We just moved here a month ago from Texas, and the adult session was very informative.”
“With all the things that have been going on in the country lately, being safe is more important than ever,” Coen said.