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Creekside Elementary students were visited by karate instructors from Alexandeer's Martial Arts and Clairday's Karate to learn from the Stranger Danger program. Children in all grades were taught throughout the day the dangers of strangers and a few simple self-defense techniques.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Creekside Elementary students were visited by karate instructors from Alexandeer's Martial Arts and Clairday's Karate to learn from the Stranger Danger program. Children in all grades were taught throughout the day the dangers of strangers and a few simple self-defense techniques.

Stranger Danger!
Program teaches schoolchildren self-defense, dangers of abduction

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

ATHENS — It's shocking how easy it can be to abduct a child, says Robert Clairday.

Over the past few months, Clairday has "abducted" hundreds of children from area schools.

A karate instructor and corrections officer, Clairday typically kicks off "Stranger Danger" programs by luring children away from class to teach them the dangers of being too trusting.

Claws the tiger, mascot for the Stranger Danger program, shows children how to defend them-selves if someone tries to abduct them.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Claws the tiger, mascot for the Stranger Danger program, shows children how to defend them-selves if someone tries to abduct them.
Clairday and his partner, Athens police Officer Greg Parnell, taught the program during physical education classes at Creekside Elementary in eastern Limestone County on Monday.

"The last class I taught, I 'abducted' 137 out of 150 kids. The coaches and the principal were just shaking their heads," Clairday said.

Clairday said he's no longer surprised by how many children will follow him away from a gym class when he tells them he has bunny rabbits in his car. The fact that they practically line up to be abducted only reinforces his belief in the need for the program.

Many of the students will still follow him after he introduces himself as Robert "Stranger" — a name that should set off alarms — and explains to them the situation's potential consequences, he said.

Clairday and Parnell, along with Claws, the Stranger Danger mascot, teach children the ways in which predators might try to trick them.

"There's never a bunny rabbit. There's never a lost puppy," Clairday said.

The program also teaches children how to get away and draw attention if someone tries to abduct them. Although the children learn some self-defense techniques, the focus of the program isn't on fighting off attackers but avoiding them altogether, Clairday said.

"There's very little karate that we teach in these programs. It's more teaching them to use their heads than anything. What I'm trying to teach the kid is where they don't have to kick or punch, they just use their brain," he said.

The program, funded by Clairday's Karate Studio, which has locations in Athens, Priceville and Hartselle, is free to schools.

Clairday said he came up with the program while teaching karate exercises during PE classes at local schools.

"One day I was at Union Hill in Morgan County, and I asked the kids, 'What does a stranger look like and what would you do if they tried to get you into their vehicle?' They said, 'I don't know.' I saw a bigger need to do that than to go in there and teach calisthenics," he said.

The program is keeping Clairday and Parnell busy in their free time, but with 18 months left until his retirement, Clairday hopes to broaden the effort.

His wife, Melissa Clairday, is helping him put together a curriculum that revolves around Claws. The character, which is actually one of his karate students dressed in a tiger suit, appeals to children, Clairday said.

"If they are intrigued by the mascot showing them something, hopefully it will make them remember it and want to practice it," he said.

Clairday said he not only hopes to expand the program to more area schools, he also wants see karate schools across the nation take up the cause.

For more information or to bring the Stranger Danger program to your school or church, call Clairday at 874-0044.

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