HIAWATHA, Kan. (WIBW) - Gathered in the lower level of the Brown Co. Sheriff's Department building, Hiawatha High School freshmen weren't just learning life lessons - they spent a day studying life-saving lessons.
The students were all being certified through the Teen Lifesaver Initiative.
"It was basically an idea that I thought we need in our county to help keep us a little safer," Sheriff John Merchant said.
Merchant launched the initiative in Brown County's two high schools, Hiawatha and Horton, four years ago. His deputies and Horton Police teach basic lifesaving skills to every student.
Brown Co. Community Officer Jerry Clary is their main class instructor, but he says Merchant is the driving force behind it.
"Sheriff Merchant was seeing that there were a large number of high school-aged kids that were getting injured and killed in car wrecks, and the other kids in the car had no clue what to do," Clary said.
"Our teenagers are the highest group of those prone to accidents, auto accidents, etc, because of their age group. Driving is a learned skill," Merchant said. "We wanted to give them tools to help render aid if needed. We're an agricultural community, there's always accidents that happen. Heaven forbid we ever have an active shooter situation in the schools. These kids can have the training to render aid until law enforcement can get there and potentially save some of their fellow classmates."
But why the Sheriff's office?
"Well, nobody else would," Merchant said, "and we had the ability to use the office of the sheriff to reach out to people and get grants and get some interest and garner interest."
Beyond bandages and CPR, the class covers a wide range of potential problems, including one close to home for two of the students in the class - how to spot a diabetic emergency.
"When my blood sugar is low, I get really shaky and sweaty, and when my blood sugar's high I get really confused and tired," Hiawatha H.S. freshman Brenna Diller explained. "It makes me feel a lot better knowing that no matter where I am in the school, I have somebody who can help me out in any situation."
Classmate Noah Stanley agreed.
"If I ever experience one of those symptoms during school hours, they need to know what to do so they can help me," he said.
People already have put the knowledge into practice. School staff also takes the class, and Clary said a bus driver used the lessons to revive a woman having a heart attack at a local restaurant. In addition, a student sprang into action at home.
"There was another sibling that was choking and, because of this class, they were able to help that person using the Heimlich maneuver," he said.
The class has another side effect. It is fostering positive relationships between the students and law enforcement.
"We want to show them we're just not out there to give them tickets and be hard to them and everything else. We want to show them that we want to help them," Merchant said.
In this case, by giving them the confidence to help themselves.
"If we can save one life - if we can make a difference in one person's life - I think it's all worth every penny we've spent," Clary said.
With this class, Hiawatha and Horton high schools will now have every single student trained in basic life saving skills.
"When you give somebody the opportunity, give them the skills necessary to possibly save another human being, especially if it's their family member or something like that, it's wonderful," Merchant said.
Last year, the Kansas Department of Transportation honored the Brown Co. Sheriff's Office with the "People Saving People" award for launching this program. It's funded entirely through grants and donations.