Teenage girls sit in a circle, hunched over a large living room floor plan, looking for potential threats to a small child.
One by one, they call out the menaces: Doors, stairs, candles, cords. Later, they practice CPR on a dummy infant, bandaging wounds and calling 9-1-1.
Once a month, Verdugo Hills Hospital offers teens a class on babysitting or watching over a younger sibling. The $40-per-person class is always filled to capacity and the “phone rings off the hook” when parents hear about it, said Verdugo Hills' family education program coordinator Teri Rice.
“Even if they're not babysitting, everyone here is being left home alone for short periods of time,” she said of her students. “A lot of them are watching their younger brothers and sisters and that's how they start babysitting.”
On a recent Saturday, 16 students — 14 girls and two boys — filled the classroom.
Some said they already have faced emergencies while monitoring small children.
Lauren Risha, a 12-year-old La Cañada Flintridge resident, recalled an incident five years ago where her infant sister began to choke.
“She began coughing up a lot of blood and I had to call 9-1-1 with my mom,” she said. “It was really scary.”
Lauren has three younger sisters and said she took the class because her parents often count on her to watch them.
Rice said the most important lesson is teaching children to keep calm when faced with an emergency.
“That's my criteria of being ready to babysit, when you feel you could handle something out of the ordinary,” she said. “It doesn't have anything to do with age.”
Rachael Franklin, 11, of La Crescenta, said she became interested in the class because she likes kids and people say that she is good with them.
“Overall, I think I have to learn it somehow,” she said.
Babysitting always seemed effortless when others looked after her, she said, but the class opened her up to hazards she didn't know existed.
“When I came here, I was like, ‘This is going to be fun,'” she said. “What I didn't know was all the stuff you had to prepare for.”
Rice said one of the most illuminating moments in the class is when she asks how many of her students hide when a stranger is at the door.
She told the class to never let someone inside for any reason, and to talk to strangers through the door, while never divulging that they are in the house alone without adults. She also said failing to answer the door might present an opportunity for a burglar to come inside.
The students practiced simple, dismissive phrases such as, “I'm sorry, I can't help you.”
Babysitting is a big responsibility, said Rice. “I told them, somebody is telling you to watch their most trusted possession.”
For more about Verdugo Hills Hospital's family education program, visit www.verdugohillshospital.org.