By Tina Alvey
Tackling three major threats to the safety of children today, a trio of experts encouraged the students of Western Greenbrier Middle School to make smart choices in their lives.
Making a presentation geared toward the attentive sixth, seventh- and eighth-graders gathered in the WGMS auditorium were U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin, U.S. Marshal John Foster and Major General James Hoyer, head of the West Virginia National Guard.
Goodwin started the ball rolling with a warning about the dangers of Internet chat rooms and other online relationships.
“You think you’re talking to someone your own age,” Goodwin told his young audience, cautioning them that, in all likelihood, the “teenager” an adolescent believes is on the other end of the connection is actually a predator trolling for victims.
“Do not ever agree to meet someone offline that you have met online,” he emphasized.
Goodwin also touched upon another technology-specific issue — sexting, or sending graphic images of a sexual nature through electronic means, usually via cell phone.
“As soon as that photograph leaves your phone ... you can’t get it back,” he warned, pointing out that once the image is sent, it can be copied and distributed beyond the possession of the intended recipient.
Foster spoke next, and his topic was bullying.
“Bullying is about ... intimidating somebody else,” he stated.
Telling the students that he grew up in a small West Virginia town, the veteran law enforcement officer said, “The day I went into the first grade was the day the bullying began.”
Foster said he was a poor student and uncoordinated to boot, which some of the other children in his school saw as an invitation to bully him verbally and physically — beating him, kicking him and calling him offensive names.
“No one deserves to be bullied,” he said, explaining how he escaped from the bullying by eventually participating in organized sports and persisting in his pursuit of an education, despite continuing to struggle academically.
While in college, Foster finally found out that he suffered from a learning disability — dyslexia — and was able to employ strategies to work around the problem that had left him a functional illiterate with a high school diploma. He earned a college degree and went on to become a respected State Police trooper and, later, U.S. Marshal.
“No one (else) can determine your future or your success,” Foster said.
“Life is full of hurts,” he told the students. “The key is how you choose to handle your hurts.”
Hoyer was the day’s final speaker, and he ceded much of his time to a pair of short films that illustrated the commitment and diversity of U.S. military troops.
“They don’t do drugs. They’re physically fit. They stayed in school. They love their families,” Hoyer summed up.
“You can’t do drugs and be in the military,” he said, adding, “It’s all about making the right decisions.”
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