WILDWOOD — Safety training at the neighborhood elementary school was once limited to stop, drop and roll as young children learned about fire safety.
Today, at places such as Glenwood Avenue Elementary School in Wildwood, children are equally familiar with the terms lockdown and gun safety.
“If the school calls for a lockdown, they know it as well as a fire drill,” said Glenwood Principal John Kummings. “We do a fire drill every month by law. We have a security drill every month by law.”
The emphasis on security and safety, he said, took on new meaning following the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead.
“It had a profound impact,” Kummings said.
The Wildwood school sent letters home after the shootings in an attempt to ease the community’s fears.
“We needed to acknowledge that it happened, but we reassured them we had been doing security drills for six years and that it was not something we took lightly,” Kummings said.
And it led Kummings to invite the Cape May County Sheriff’s Department into the school to talk about gun safety.
“Are real guns toys?” asked Sheriff’s Officer Randy Mistic.
“No!” yelled the school’s first and second-graders at an assembly held this week in the school’s all-purpose room.
The Sheriff’s Department offers the gun safety assembly free of charge to schools across the county and this was the first time it was held in Wildwood.
Mistic asked the children if they had toy guns at home — many did — and if they played cops and robbers. Nearly all raised their hands.
But Mistic focused on the distinction between playtime and real weapons.
“What do you do when you find a gun?” Mistic asked. “You don’t touch it.”
Mistic, a father of three, was accompanied by Eddie Eagle, a mascot played this day by Sheriff’s Officer Nate Dickinson. A video featuring the friendly character then played, offering scenarios when a gun might be encountered in a house.
“If you see a gun,” Eddie warned, “Stop. Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.”
The warning was then repeated by the children as Mistic emphasized its value.
“Don’t be afraid of coming to us if you find a gun,” Mistic said.
But the lesson was not only about found weapons, but also about bringing them to school.
“Do we bring a gun to school?” he asked.
“No!” was the resounding reply.
“What would you do if you see a gun in school?” he asked.
“Tell an adult!” the children yelled back.
After the assembly, first-graders Marlene Gomez, 6, and Norkis Lopez, 7, spoke softly but clearly about what they learned.
“That it’s important to follow the rules,” Norkis said.
And as for guns, “You shouldn’t touch them,” said Marlene.
After the children left, Mistic said interest in the gun safety program has risen since the shootings at Sandy Hook.
“We’re doing more programs this year than we ever had,” he said, noting the brief session with Eddie Eagle is free to local schools.
Mistic said there were some misconceptions that the program actually involved teaching children how to use guns, but instead the lesson was that children should not touch them if they encounter them and instead turn to an adult for help.
Wildwood, for instance, was the scene of a shooting in October 2004 in which one of the participants testified in court that he routinely left guns in random locations in the city.
According to the FBI, there were 369 murders in New Jersey in 2011, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, and of those, 269 involved firearms and 238 of those were handguns.
Kummings said the program was another step in its security measures that already include security cameras, regular drills and photo identification for all visitors.
“It seems like a good fit,” he said.
But perhaps it was Eddie Eagle who summed up the reason gun safety had become an important lesson.
“Guns aren’t toys. They shouldn’t be touched by girls and boys,” Eddie said as the video played.
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