School bells and buses will knock off the summer dust and return to work on Wednesday to kick off the 2022-2023 academic year. From kindergarteners loaded with 32-packs of crayons to seniors with iPads and a pack of gum, students will take their seats across Alachua County.
This week’s flurry of activity began earlier for teachers and staff in the Alachua County Public School (ACPS) district, and one group of 14 prepped for the year through a 5-day training session at Newberry Elementary School from July 25-29.
The group earned their radKIDS certification over the week, allowing them to teach radKIDS’ program to elementary students this year. Officials hope the training will combat opioid addiction that develops later while also prepping students for any dangerous situations.
“For 33 years of my law enforcement career, we’ve responded too late because that’s what we do,” Cary Gallop said in an interview at the radKIDS training. “We wait until someone calls 911 or calls for help.”
Gallop serves as a school resource officer for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and volunteers as a regional director for radKIDS.
Responding too late results in what Gallop calls the Humpty Dumpty Theory. Law enforcement arrives, stops the wrongdoing and then works with other organizations to put the pieces back together. But for humans caught up in the middle, scars and cracks can remain.
“You don’t feel successful when that’s all you do in a career,” Gallop said. “RadKIDS allows us to come early.”
The path to radKIDS started years ago, when Newberry officials encountered statistics on youth suicide and opioid addiction in Alachua County. City officials started a citizen-led opioid taskforce, and a member from that taskforce encountered Gallop giving a radKIDS training course.
While Newberry had focused on the opioid crisis, a radKIDS training includes dangers like kidnapping, sexual abuse, dangerous animals, internet safety and water safety. The program gives kids its entire core training, not just deploying the drug safety training in one area and leaving the rest.
Newberry started an interlocal agreement to raise awareness for opioid addiction, sending its task force to other cities and asking for a $10,000 commitment.
Archer, High Springs and Micanopy agreed, and Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said talks continue with some municipalities. The task force also approached the Children’s Trust of Alachua County to serve as the administrative agents and hopes the county matches the fund total raised by the cities.
“Generally, we’re all sort of staying in our ponds; we’re not looking for avenues to work together,” Marlowe said of the municipalities. “This is, I hope, a new way we can conduct business here in Alachua County by looking for ways and opportunities for us to do work together.”
Once finalized, the children’s trust will create a committee that will decide how to use the money to spread county-wide awareness of opioid addiction. Marlowe called it a 20,000 feet approach, and every city that chips in will have a seat on the committee.
Newberry itself dedicated $15,000 toward the opioid issue and decided to use the funds to bring radKIDS training for ACPS schools.
“It’s a holistic approach towards the opioid crisis because it isn’t just about the opioid crisis,” Marlowe said. “RadKIDS really does teach kids to think for themselves and know that they’re valuable and nobody has the right to hurt them.”
Gallop said some ACPS schools had used radKIDS before, but as certified instructors switched schools or moved into administration, the program might be hit or miss depending on the year. The training had periodically been at Gainesville Country Day School, Queen of Peace Academy and Oak Hall.
Micanopy Area Cooperative School has used radKIDS training on a constant basis, and Shell Elementary School also gives the basic training portion but not the simulation, according to Gallop.
With newly certified instructors, the training will expand, hitting Idylwild Elementary School with possibilities at P.K. Yonge, Archer and High Springs.
Gallop hopes every Alachua County student leaves elementary school as a radKID. At first, the course seemed like another tool for law enforcement, but after a couple of years, he understood the impact.
“You could tell that they felt differently about themselves, and I realized the word ‘empowerment,’ which is in the program when you learn it, is you’re truly empowering an individual to stop violence when it happens around them,” Gallop said. “So they now feel differently about themselves.”
He said students stood straighter and talked differently because they felt the change generated by the three tenets of radKIDS.
RadKIDS training tells students:
- NO ONE has the right to hurt them because they are SPECIAL.
- That they do not have the right to hurt anyone else, including themselves, UNLESS someone is trying to hurt them and then they have every right to STOP them.
- That if ANYONE ever tries or has tried to hurt them, trick them or make them feel bad (inside or out) it is not their fault, and since it is not their fault they CAN tell.
The radKIDS nonprofit started in 2001 under Stephen Daley. Since then, the program has trained more than 300,000 children and 6,000 instructors.
According to the radKIDS website, more than 175 kids used their training when threatened with abduction and returned to their family. Thousands of other radKIDS spoke up after their training about past abuse or assault.
Gallop said Micanopy Area Cooperative School serves as proof of radKIDS success. He sits on the board of directors for the school and said bullying doesn’t happen. Instead, kids use conflict resolution.
“It’s because of radKIDS—because we teach kids how to resolve their own issues within the school system,” Gallop said. “And when they can’t resolve it with their radKIDS skills, they take it to a trusted adult. Again, that’s radKIDS.”
Students still bump into each other and tempers rise, but Gallop said bullying—taking power out of other kids with the intention of making them feel inferior whether once or ongoing—has been replaced by conflict resolution.
Gallop added that the school already had a great culture, and radKIDS came alongside to improve it. Last year, Gallop said threat assessments in ACPS doubled, and while he has yet to confirm it, he said Micanopy had zero.
“When you lay those three foundations, that’s more than just drug resistance,” Gallop said. “That’s self-value, self-worth. You get to go on to becoming a good person and not have to worry about all of the other things in the world because I’m a different person now.”
Gallup looks to continue training ACPS staff, allowing all students to receive the training. He said radKIDS might hold instructor training during the school year when less staff are gone for vacation.