Law enforcement officers -- and Lucky Duck -- share safety information at local schools
A Lucky Duck told of “Stranger Danger” at a pool of schools throughout Putnam County recently.
But no “fowl play” was suspected.
Puppet Lucky Duck was part of the colorful entourage in the Deputy Phil program. The program took place during April at all Putnam County public and private elementary schools. Students learned in a factual, yet fun-filled manner about important topics for youths, such as bicycle safety, Internet safety, gun and needle safety, bullying and the aforementioned “Stranger Danger.”
Mr. Mike, a/k/a Mike Eakins, led the half-hour Deputy Phil presentations.
“What we do is use magic and a puppet. It gets them laughing and having a good time, and they don’t realize they’re learning most of the time,” Eakins said during a telephone interview last week. “This year, we talked a lot about being part of the Safety Squad. I tell them some general safety things, like if they find a needle or find a gun, don’t touch it -- tell a grown-up.
“Using the puppet and the magic, they’re being entertained while they learn,” he said. “We do a lot of silly stuff. When they’re having a good time, it’s easier for them to absorb the information.
“Lucky’s pretty much the star. With Lucky, I talk about finding things that can be dangerous, like needles or bottles or guns.”
Eakins has presented the Deputy Phil programs for nearly 30 years. “We cover 18 different states, from Maine to Indiana to all parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland, Rhode Island, you name it,” he said. “Six of us actually put on the programs.
“I’ve always performed, sometimes full time,” he explained as he awaited a flight at the Pittsburgh airport, bound for another Deputy Phil program. “I go to a convention of ventriloquists every year, and I met up with the folks who do these programs at the convention, and one thing led to another. I was actually a supervisor in the radiology department at Ruby Memorial Hospital, but I’ve [performed] since I was a kid; I always played around with magic and ventriloquism. But I have a master’s degree in Education, so that got me into working in the schools and teaching the kids a lot of good stuff.”
Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese said the Deputy Phil programs, run by Creative Safety Products of Pittsburgh, have been conducted for several years in Putnam schools.
“They always do it in the spring before school lets out,” the sheriff said. “They target grades one and two, and sometimes bring in the kindergarten classes.
“With Mike Eakins, that’s home cooking there. I request him every year; he’s the best I’ve ever seen. And he’s originally from Morgantown,” Deweese said.
Deweese said the programs are funded by local business sponsors who are solicited by Creative Safety Products representatives. Along with the interactive school sessions, each student receives a safety book geared to his or her grade level. Sponsors are credited in each book.
The Deputy Phil program was created in 1975, offering educational programs to elementary school students around the nation. Stephanie Seal, public relations coordinator with Creative Safety Products, said that more than 1,500 students in Putnam’s 16 schools have seen the Deputy Phil programs, which have been presented in the county over the past 19 years.
Seal also lauded the community support that has enabled Creative Safety Products to continue the effort.
“A lot of folks really enjoy being in it and have done it for years and years. They’re always more than happy to join in. They get to post their advertising in the books as well as being involved with the schools and the sheriff’s office,” Seal said.
“One of the primary objectives of the Deputy Phil program is to help the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office establish a positive relationship with the youth in the county. It’s very important for the children to know that the deputies are friendly, approachable and always available to help the children and their families, when in need.
“We just keep growing, through word of mouth and newspapers,” Seal added. “We go to 600 elementary schools in Pennsylvania alone, and the program has served over a million children since it started.”
Putnam County law enforcement officers assisted Eakins during the countywide school visits last month, Deweese said. “I usually attend every one, but I couldn’t this year,” the sheriff said, “so two Prevention Resource Officers, Cpl. Will Jordan and Deputy Kevin Woodford, did them this year.”
Deweese said the yearly programs, unfailingly, engage the student audiences and are well received by the community. “Mike uses magic and puppets and interacts with the students. I always hear excellent feedback. At the schools, he gives an evaluation to each school teacher to fill out after each course. They’re on a one to six -- six being the best -- scale, and I’ve always seen sixes for the presenter who comes down. We get a lot of good feedback. Every year, we get about 20 to 25 comments from parents, usually. Some of them have said their kids came home and talked about the show for days on days.
“They really enjoy it and get a lot out of it,” Deweese said.
For more information about the Deputy Phil program, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-888-825-7445.