DIXON, Mo. – A Missouri Army National Guard recruiter recently conducted a one-hour situational awareness class for some Dixon High School students.
Sgt. 1st Class Greg Polk, a recruiter with the Missouri Guard who works out of the 35th Engineer Brigade armory at Fort Leonard Wood, showed a PowerPoint presentation and had an open discussion with students in Mrs. Trish McCray's child development and nutrition and wellness classes.
Polk said the definition of situational awareness is being knowledgeable of your surroundings at all times and in all places.
"The goal of putting on the situational awareness course is to make sure that students are aware of what could potentially happen to them when they are out in the general public," said Polk, who lives in Waynesville. "We also want to promote safety, as far as them being aware of their surroundings, the different obstacles they may be faced with out there and the dangers of society."
During the presentation, Polk showed a video, caught on surveillance cameras, of the 2007 abduction of 18-year-old Kelsey Ann Smith from a Target parking lot in Overland Park, Kan. Smith was abducted in broad daylight when a man walked up behind her and pushed her into her own vehicle in less than 20 seconds. He then raped and murdered her.
"I tried to bring it home to them that even as high school kids, although they think they are safe and invincible and can't be touched, I wanted them to realize they could become victims regardless of what age bracket you may be in," he said. "I wanted them to be able to recognize some signs and develop some things they could to do as preventative measures so they don't become a victim."
Sophomore Haley Simpson, a member of the nutrition and wellness class, was surprised at how quickly the abduction occurred.
"It's crazy," she said. "You would never think that someone could do something like that in so short amount of time. I learned that you need to be very aware of what's around you."
Simpson, who lives in Dixon, said the instruction offered a lot of value.
"The presentation was fantastic and I got a lot out of it," she said.
After meeting Polk at a career day event at the school last year, McCray said she asked him to put on the course for her freshman through senior students.
"One of my concerns with our kids is that they have not been exposed to any type of violent situation and they are unaware of their surroundings," she said. "He told me he had a program that he could come and present to my classes and he came out last year."
Following Polk's visit last year, McCray said she received a lot of positive feedback.
"They were amazed at how quickly Smith was abducted," McCray said. "Kelsey was a great example because that's how old some of these kids are. How many times do these kids run to [stores] to get something, but they don't pay attention when they walk around to the car. They don't realize how quickly something can happen."
McCray, who lives in Dixon, said she felt her students, mostly female, needed this information after seeing a former female student walking home alone from a friend's house after 11 p.m. one evening in Dixon.
"What I want them to be aware of is that when they go to [stores], and they go out at midnight to do their shopping, they need to pay attention to their surroundings," McCray said. "Especially with our girls, with the technology that we have today and the students always being on their cell phones and not paying attention, I see that. The last thing I want is for them to become a victim."
That thought, scares McCray.
"It really has me concerned," she said. "I think we see more and more of it and it's not just inner cities or the suburbs. It's also in our rural areas. And until we make them aware of what can happen to them, it could be one of my kids here."
Polk used several examples to hammer home the point that males can become victims too. He used several examples, including one as near as Sullivan.
To end the course, Polk demonstrated a few basic self-defense techniques to the students.
"I liked that we got to see some of the moves first hand," said senior Gabe Cook, who lives in Dixon. "I feel good that I learned that there are ways to defend against violence and criminal activity."
Polk said the classes have been a great way to develop relationships with school faculty and students.
"A lot of the schools I teach at ask me to come out more than once a year," Polk said. "Mrs. McCray has asked me to come out twice a year and the kids really get a lot out of it."
Polk said he is available to put on the situational awareness class, or several others, at any Pulaski or Texas county school or organization.
Among the other classes Polk said he can cover are career directions, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery interpretations and a teen spirit leadership course. Polk can be contacted at 573-329-9030.