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Officer Phil Combines Magic & Humor with a Serious Message

Jun 26, 2014 03:03PM ● By Pamela Johnson

Joseph Palermbo with Officer Phil & his duck.

The children at South Elementary School filed into the auditorium and sat down, waiting for the “Officer Phil” program to start. Sponsored by the Bellingham Police Department and Chief Gerard Daigle, the program is an effort to teach basic safety concepts to children using magic tricks and ventriloquism to emphasize important life lessons.

Mike McDade, wearing a bright red “Officer Phil” shirt, demonstrated his longtime performing experience as he quickly launched into the program, which offered the message “Be Safe, Feel Safe, Stay Safe.” His use of silly, self-effacing humor had the children laughing, but more importantly, listening to what he had to say. His ostensible “fumbling” with his magic tricks provided the perfect opportunity to repeat his message mantra.

McDade was frustrated again and again as he tried to make his safety points using red, yellow, and green balls that represented traffic lights. As the balls magically switched positions on him, he repeated the lessons. The children giggled, then laughed out loud, but Officer Phil maintained a consistent message about traffic safety: red means stop, yellow means use caution, and green means go.

Several children “helped” Officer Phil with his magic tricks. Student Jason Shepardson tossed imaginary coins into the air. Officer Phil “caught” the imaginary coins, which produced a satisfying “clink.” The showman then proffered a very real coin. Long-time South Elementary teacher Pat Henry wound up and tossed her imaginary coin, which McDade also transformed into a real coin, much to the children’s delight. The magic “patter” was all about wearing seat belts and wearing helmets when biking or skating. And “If you want to learn magic, go to the library or the Officer Phil website,” McDade advised.

Juggling, ventriloquism, and magic tricks all served the greater purpose of capturing the children’s attention and reminding them of simple safety rules. A little advice on healthful foods was offered using silly stuffed vegetables and fruits. A large ventriloquist’s dummy, a duck with an attitude, provided a great foil for Officer Phil. McDade is actually a highly skilled ventriloquist. And no, his lips never moved, even when he was singing—a skill most of us will never master.

The duck offered some bad puns, reminded children about bullying, and explained the difference between being a tattle-tale and being a responsible reporter. Officer Phil’s—and his duck’s—parting message is worth remembering for all of us —“Be a buddy, never a bully.”

story & photo by Marjorie Turner Hollman,
Bulletin Contributing Writer




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