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Kids urged to avoid drug traps

Officers help teach students in 9 cities

OREM — Orem Police Sgt. Charlie Wakamatsu holds up a small plastic mousetrap-like clip. "OK, now put your hand in here," he says, motioning toward 11-year-old Kaaihue Asalva, the competitor from the boys team.

The rest of the boys in Ryan Radebaugh's sixth-grade Bonneville Elementary School class shout "No!" and "Don't, it's a trap!"

"You're not even going to do it for a point?" Wakamatsu challenges, and Asalva cautiously moves his hand toward the clip, then back again.

The other competitor, Alexis Hall, listens to the shouts from her group of girls and instantly declines. Next, Wakamatsu brings out a giant wooden and metal mousetrap and acts like he's setting it.

"Just put your hand right there," he encourages, "This is for the win!"

But this time, both students recoil and instantly refuse.

"That's the way it is with drugs. Some drugs don't have a lot of horrible, horrible effects all at once," Wakamatsu tells the students after the activity, holding up the small clip.

Then he holds up the giant mousetrap. "But some drugs will wipe you out the first time you use them."

Each Thursday, Wakamatsu visits this class to teach another lesson from the NOVA program. It's like DARE, but better suited to the students' needs, he says.

Wakamatsu and Paul Jenkins, a licensed child and family psychologist, created the Nurturing, Opportunities, Values and Accountability program about five years ago, and a year later, created NOVA Principles LC., to share the program with schools beyond Orem.

Currently nine cities have trained NOVA officers, from Logan to Payson.

It's not that DARE isn't good, but NOVA is just a bit more complete, Wakamatsu said.

"The difference is, NOVA is a principle-based program," Wakamatsu said. "Principles govern everything. We help (students) be able to govern all other things in their life."

The lessons include saying no to drugs, developing self-esteem, learning why good heroes are important, managing anger and dealing with media — including TV/Internet and music safety.

The 13- to 15-week program for fifth- or sixth-graders is taught by uniformed officers once a week for one hour in the classroom. There's also a four-week, four-lesson program for junior high students, taught in either seventh or eighth grade, depending on when the students have health class.

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In last Thursday's lesson, Radebaugh's class learned about self-esteem and the importance of accepting everyone as they are.

To make his point, Wakamatsu had three students come to the front of the class and hold up pencils.

The first one was new and colorful, with a sharp point, the class described.

But the student holding the second one wrinkled her nose. "It's chewed," she said.

The next pencil had been sharpened to no more than 4 inches long and was missing an eraser. The class all agreed it was short and old.

"(But) what's the same about the pencils?" Wakamatsu asked. "Each of these pencils has good lead."

Then he hit the instructional moment.

"Every single one of you ... have been born with good lead. What are you going to do with your good lead?"

Wakamatsu ties each activity or game back to a NOVA principle and a learning opportunity. The students, many wearing their NOVA shirts, left class with a brand-new pencil and an increased desire to be more considerate to others, whether they're "chewed" and not-so-pretty or short and old.

The lesson had a powerful impact on 11-year-old Jared Awerkamp, who said he would invite more students to play basketball with him and his friends at recess.

"If you see someone that doesn't have any friends, ask them to play with you," he said.

The lessons are crucial, said Radebaugh, who said growing up in today's world is a lot different than when he went to school.

"The (kids) are exposed to more," he said. "The way things are now, it's important to address those things now."