After learning about a few human trafficking cases occurring close to home, Zachary High School teachers Janie Tidwell and Crystal VonRosenberg felt their students were not fully aware of their surroundings and possibly filled with a false sense of security.

“They have a ‘that could never happen to me’ mentality, so we wanted to give them a reality check,” said Tidwell, a health occupations instructor. “We wanted them to learn something that could possibly prevent them from becoming a victim.”

Tidwell reached out to her husband, Reserve Officer Buddy Tidwell, who then contacted Officers Chaz Perkins and Tandem Wilbur, defensive tactics instructors for the Zachary Police Department, and the officers agreed to teach a two-day course on awareness and personal safety.

Tidwell invited fellow teachers April Barnes’ and Madeline Gugich’s physical education classes to attend the course.

More than 400 students, mostly females, participated with some male students and teachers joining in.

Held March 9-10, the first day was a classroom setting that provided students with personal safety tips such as getting to know physical surroundings, learning about friends of friends and always remaining vigilant when traveling with a group of people.

“They should ask questions such as ‘who am I traveling with’ and ‘what is our destination,’ especially when traveling with people they don’t know well.”

The students learned how to program their cellphones to be easily tracked if they ever found themselves in danger, and the officers issued personal safety information sheets the teens could take home. On the second day, the course was about physical safety and avoiding physical confrontation.

“One never knows the abilities or motivations of an attacker,” Wilbur said. “This is information Officer Perkins and I have gathered over years of training, from police work and input from previous classes we’ve taught. Our main goal was to make the students aware of the very real dangers that exist. We wanted to impress upon them the importance of preventative measures they can take every day to reduce or eliminate the possibility of becoming a victim of a violent crime.”

Perkins and Wilbur demonstrated escape maneuvers such as bear hugs, wrist grabs, choke holds and head locks. They said the majority of the students participated, and no injuries were reported.

“Even in learning these techniques, we still stressed the importance of maintaining distance,” Wilbur said. “The escape maneuvers were taught as a ‘last resort option’ because again, you never know your attacker’s ability or your own ability to effectively get away, especially when under duress or stress.”

Both Perkins and Wilbur have been training in Brazilian jiu jitsu for five years, and before that, they trained in Judo.

“In my opinion, all types of martial arts are great, as long as they are learned and utilized properly. We just prefer Brazilian jiu jitsu because it covers a wide variety of techniques that are more practical in real life situations and in law enforcement,” Wilbur said.

Jiu jitsu is one of the few martial arts that can be practiced to the fullest extent without ever injuring an opponent or partner, he said.

“People only see the submissive maneuvers and think that’s what jiu jitsu is all about, but that’s false, it’s about controlling or subduing your opponent and preventing them from hurting you.”

As defensive tactics instructors, the two officers have been leading similar training courses at the police department for the past six years and host similar sessions throughout the year for anyone and any organization or group that is interested.

“We’re passionate about this and enjoy sharing our knowledge with the community,” Wilbur said. “It’s also a great learning experience for everyone involved because sometimes we’re met with questions that require us to seek answers, new ideas or technology that we may not have known about before.”

Students submitted comments about the course.

“The overall feedback was very positive,” Tidwell said. “We can’t thank these officers enough for volunteering two days of their time which could equate to saving a life. Their willingness to spend time teaching these kids is just another reason why Zachary is such a great place to live.”