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AYER — If you ask kids today what they want to be when they grow up, would you be surprised if someone said a dendrochronologist? The science of studying the past by looking at tree rings is called dendrochronology and students in neighborhood elementary schools are using this same approach to learn about community values and personal safety.

As a tree grows, it produces tree rings or unique layers of wood around the trunk, just under the bark. As kids grow up, they too have the ability to produce VIP rings or unique layers of character traits by looking to the past and present examples of role models such as parents, teachers and local police officers. This important message of discovery as it relates to child safety and citizenship is the theme of this school year’s “Officer Phil and Pals” program, sponsored by the Ayer Police Department.

Creative Safety Products has developed a lesson plan emphasizing that respectful values are everywhere in our community. When children respect themselves, they quickly learn to stay away from harmful or dangerous situations that might cause injury or get them into trouble. Also when children emulate the positive words and exemplary actions of “VIP” role models in Ayer, they then learn the meaning of respect by actually lending a helping hand to others in making our community a safer and better place to live each day.

This year, the fun-filled and informative 30-minute animated safety assembly features “Ozzgood the Owl” and a special talking “VIP Tree” discussing proactive ways kids can handle issues like stranger awareness, accident prevention, stealing, vandalism, bullying and cyberbullying. During the “Let’s Join Hands with VIP’s” presentation, the use of magical and musical activities also remind kids that telling a parent or guardian about something that is unsafe, illegal, or wrong is not snitching… it is responsible reporting. As a post-assembly activity for a job well done, teachers, students and parents are encouraged to send an e-mail to Officer Phil at requesting six handy Value in Action trading cards to collect and share with family and friends.

In addition to the assembly, the students receive an informative “Officer Phil and Pals” activity booklet provided by local merchants. The workbooks are designed to show everyone the value of community in dealing with personal safety and crime prevention issues. In fact, when people help empower each other with respectful values, there are less problems, arguments, and misunderstandings too! The success of this nationally acclaimed program is therefore based upon the children’s ability to discuss these relevant topics with police officers, teachers, friends and family in a non-threatening way.

As a result, girls and boys are ready to reach out their hands together with everyone in the community for a safer today and a brighter tomorrow in Ayer.