The details of a gun safety program recently presented to Monroe elementary school students were unveiled at the Board of Education’s regular meeting Monday night.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) Eddie the Eagle gun safety program was presented to all second grade students in Monroe public schools, in addition to second graders from St. Jude School, at the end of March, according to youth Detective Kelly McFarland. The program is based on a seven-minute video that teaches children the four actions to take if they see a firearm — Stop, Don’t Touch, Leave the Area, and Tell an Adult. The program also provides students with coloring books and stickers, in addition to a gun safety guide to take home and discuss with their families.
After a viewing of the gun safety video and a word from Eddie the Eagle, who was on hand at each school during the program presentations, school officials and police officers conducted a question-and-answer session with the students to address any questions or concerns they had, McFarland said. The students were then broken up into their respective classrooms to go over what they learned from the video. A contest was then held to see which class understood and remembered its gun safety tips most accurately.
But reiterating the program’s lessons didn’t stop there, McFarland said. After the contest, Eddie the Eagle interacted with students, who were again asked to go over their questions or concerns about gun safety.
Before the program was rolled out, a letter was sent home explaining the gun safety program and giving parents the opportunity to withhold their child from the program if they so desired, McFarland said. Only one such student opted out of the program this year, she added.
McFarland first introduced the Eddie the Eagle program to the town three to four years ago after a student brought a bullet into a Monroe school, prompting the principal to ask the police department for assistance in addressing gun safety with students. The program had not been implemented in any of Monroe’s schools since that time until this year, a few months after police Chief John Salvatore had asked McFarland to find a gun safety program appropriate for district students.
The Eddie the Eagle program is “very effective and the kids and the teachers and the schools are very receptive to it,” McFarland told The Courier. In fact, she said, one of the district’s school resource officers (SROs) was recently stopped by a parent who thanked her for implementing the program, especially in light of the informational materials sent home with children.
Despite praise from some community members, however, the implementation of the program is not without its critics. Steve Ballok of Shelton, coordinator of Monroe’s Four Freedoms project, spoke against the program at the board’s meeting Monday night. The Four Freedoms project was a philanthropic effort implemented in 2013 to raise money to buy four prints of Norman Rockwell’s famous “Four Freedoms” painting series, which ultimately resulted in donations made to the police department for gun safety programming.
Ballok said that while he is in favor of gun safety initiatives, he doesn’t believe the NRA’s program was the best or most effective one available.
Ballok shared a quote from the Violence Policy Center to back up his beliefs, which stated, “Eddie the Eagle is Joe Camel with feathers. The NRA Eddie the Eagle program falls far short on the stated goal of teaching gun safety.”
The program does not warn children about the consequences of handling firearms, which is crucial to learning about gun safety, Ballok said, adding that he was uneasy about using an NRA-based program.
“I’m somewhat concerned about rolling out a program that’s rolled out by the National Rifle Association,” Ballok said.
Although the organization does plenty to promote gun safety, Ballok said, it is also a “political hot button” most recently recognized for opposing required universal background checks on individuals who wish to purchase firearms.
Ballok further stated that he was “troubled” by the way the Eddie the Eagle program was rolled out in Monroe, given that the Board of Education and PTO had no say in its implementation. When only a few individuals select a program that affects students districtwide, it is “not an effective way to build public policy,” he said.
In response to Ballok’s remarks, McFarland explained that although the program was funded by the NRA, none of its pamphlets, aside from a small copyright symbol on the back of some materials, bear the organization’s name. The materials, she added, were provided by the NRA at no cost.
McFarland also stated that, to her knowledge, the program had not received criticism from parents, teachers or school officials. A number of teachers and principals who sat in on the program indicated that they enjoyed it, she added.
“I think it’s a positive program and it fits the purpose of what we needed to do,” McFarland said.
Superintendent James Agostine added that Eddie the Eagle was a very grade level-appropriate program. It was also a timely initiative, given the tragic events endured by Sandy Hook Elementary School in the town right next door, he said.
Agostine said it is likely that Monroe schools will present annual gun safety programs going forward, and that although the Eddie the Eagle program is working at present, other programs may be explored in the future.
To view the Eddie the Eagle program video, visit youtube.com and search “Eddie the Eagle gun safety.”