Bianca Castro

Self-Defense Program Teaches Students How To Be a Hard Target

A dozen local children, considered some of the most vulnerable among their peers, are ready for just about any danger that might come their way.

They're students at Jane Justin School at Cook Children’s Child Study Center, a center designed to teach lifelong skills to children and teenagers with developmental and learning disabilities.

They've just completed a unique program that launched in the fall of 2018. The program began as a R.A.D. self-defense course and has since evolved into a curriculum called 'Hard Target.'

The 12-hour class teaches self-defense to students with developmental and learning disabilities in the Center's Upper School.

"We spend a lot of time teaching them how to be compliant and be good students and good citizens," said Dr. Joyce Mauk, CEO and medical director of the Child Study Center. "We really don't want our children to be taken advantage of."

Mauk said statistics show people with intellectual disabilities are more vulnerable to physical or sexual assault because they may not be able to recognize danger or protect themselves.

Brennan McCullars, 'Hard Target' instructor and security services trainer at Cook Children's, creates scenarios for the children, including being attacked at an ATM.

McCullars teaches self-defense moves and tactics, such as yelling "No!"
"If we can't get away from them, which there's a possibility they can't, how do you fight?" said McCullars.

Elizabeth Raymond, 18, said she feels more confident about being on her own while her parents said they've seen that confidence at home.

"This day in age, why not give her that opportunity to put that tool in her tool kit?" said Lonnie Raymond, her father. "She's got this confidence. It's coming out. It's easy to let yourself be sheltered and be under mom and dad's wing forever but she's spreading her wings on her own."

The "Hard Target" program is specifically for students, ages 13 to 22 and is said to be the only self defense program like it in the country.

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