Dakota Wadsack must be thankful she was paying attention in class about three years ago.
The now sixth grader at Sage Canyon Elementary in Castle Rock learned how to do abdominal thrusts in her physical education classes when she was in third grade.
Since then, she kept practicing in class in fourth and fifth grade.
“It was kind of scary because I never thought I would actually do it to someone,” Wadsack said.
But this summer, those lessons paid off.
Wadsack was in Sedona, Ariz. with her younger brother visiting grandparents. They decided to go on a hike.
Dakota’s grandpa gave both kids some hard candy.
Dakota’s little brother jumped on a rock, then she noticed something was wrong.
“As soon as I looked over, he was holding his neck and everything,” she said.
Without much time to think, Dakota ran to her brother, performed abdominal thrusts and dislodged that candy.
“My grandpa was just standing behind me asking how did she do that,” she said.
She was able to do it all because of a passion project started by the physical education teacher at Sage Canyon Elementary.
“As most people who’ve seen me teach over the last 22 years know, I’m different,” Lance Schoenwald said.
Several years ago, specials teachers at Sage Canyon were asked to think outside the box and bring something they’re passionate about into the classroom.
Schoenwald decided he wanted to bring first aid skills into the classroom.
“When I was starting off I always wanted to prepare kids if an event ever happened that they would be prepared and able to handle a situation,” he said.
State standards for physical education don’t include any first aid teaching requirements, according to the state’s department of education.
Schoenwald’s curriculum includes CPR, abdominal thrusts and other skills that allow students to recognize if someone is having a medical emergency.
“When I teach the class I try to integrate it into games... so it's not an adult like class,” he said. He taught signs of heart attack with a game of tag.
“Being prepared for situations in life is the number one way to succeed,” Schoenwald said.
Since he started teaching these elements in his class, he’s heard two stories of the lessons paying off. Dakota’s story and another student.
“I had a student who was riding with her grandma and her grandma had a stroke...and she started asking her questions,” Schoenwald said.
That student was able to recognize the signs of a stroke and got her grandma to pull over. She grabbed the keys and called 911.
When asked if she considers herself a hero, Dakota Wadsack instantly says yes. She also admits she has something to hold over her brother now.
“Grandpa said since your sister saved your life you get to do everything for her,” she said.
She was also awarded a teddy bear and a special medal from the city of Sedona’s council and police chief in July.
Sedona also sent Sage Canyon a letter, thanking the school for allowing Schoenwald to teach those skills in his class.
Schoenwald says he hopes other physical education teachers will consider teaching the class as well.