Model Programs

C.H.A.M.P.S. Brings Flexibility to Georgia School Safety Education

Location: Georgia By Becky Lewis Published February 2019

In today’s fast-paced world, school administrators struggle to fit all of the required elements into a school day, leaving little time for a regimented extracurricular program on school safety.

So they asked the Georgia Sheriffs Association to come up with an extremely flexible one.

Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety, better known as C.H.A.M.P.S., lets school districts select from a menu of 23 lesson topics, taught by a deputy sheriff certified by the GSA.

“We work with each school district to give them a program that meets their needs. If it’s a rural county and they don’t have a gang problem, we don’t expect them to give us time to teach a lesson on gangs. We tailor it to meet the needs of the individual community,” says GSA Training Director Brent Loeffler, one of the co-designers of the original program in 2003.

In addition to tailoring C.H.A.M.P.S. to community needs, Loeffler also continues to refine the program by tailoring it to the times. Recent changes have included updating the tobacco lesson plan to address vaping, adding information about opioids and designing a new unit on car safety that moves beyond just seat belts to look at the state’s new hands-free law and distracted driving. C.H.A.M.P.S. participants come from either fifth grade or middle schools, and the program not only teaches them to avoid unhealthy behaviors when they’re older, it also encourages them to share what they’ve learned at home with their parents, older siblings and other family members, which Loeffler says can be a public relations gold mine for a local sheriff’s office.

“We give our instructors a lot of latitude – they have a solid foundational plan for each lesson, but we let them interpret it in their own way and encourage them to share stories when appropriate. For instance, we had one instructor who lost a brother to cocaine addiction, and he shared that with his students. Others are honest about their own nicotine addiction,” he says. “We also want them to include some kind of activity with each lesson. For example, some instructors set up a cone course on a playground and allow the kids to use the “drunk goggles” to navigate it with a tricycle or a golf cart, or they have students run in place and then try to breathe only through a coffee stirrer to show how tobacco use cuts down on ability to breathe. It’s one thing to explain these concepts to kids, and another to show it.”

In order to prepare deputies to follow those flexible concepts in their teaching, GSA requires potential instructors to take a two-week training course to earn certification. The training features subject-matter experts in a variety of different areas, such as a Department of Natural Resources ranger who teaches ATV safety and elementary teachers who present on classroom management and how fifth-graders think. In order to pass the course, each would-be instructor has to prepare and successfully teach a lesson on one of the 23 C.H.A.M.P.S. topics, sometimes in a local school or sometimes to their classmates. Potential lesson topics from the C.H.A.M.P.S curriculum include Internet Safety and Social Media, Alcohol, Bullying, Peer Pressure, Understanding and Avoiding Violence, and Prescription Drug Abuse.

“Not everyone makes a good instructor. We’ve had students who were tremendous at SWAT or crime scene investigation but they don’t fit in a classroom. It’s not for everybody,” Loeffler says, and if the topics the deputies are learning to teach seem a bit heavy for a fifth-grade classroom, they are presented in an age-appropriate manner.

“It mirrors a lot of what’s going on in today’s world. Kids see things on TV and in their own classrooms that parents aren’t always aware of. They grow up a lot quicker today,” Loeffler says. “We hope that C.H.A.M.P.S. can turn them away from making bad decisions later in life. We want them to learn that every choice they make comes with a consequence, even if they don’t realize what the consequence is until years later.”