Teaching Students About Jacob Wetterling: Promoting Awareness and Empathy in the Classroom


The story of Jacob Wetterling is an important piece of history that educators can use to teach students about personal safety, empathy, and community engagement. Jacob was an 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped on October 22, 1989, in St. Joseph, Minnesota, while cycling home from a convenience store with his brother and a friend. His abduction remained unsolved for 27 years until his remains were found in 2016 when his kidnapper confessed to the crime.

Incorporating this case into classroom discussions can help students develop an understanding of the importance of personal security, showcase the power of community support, and foster empathy for victims and their families.

Encouraging Discussions on Personal Safety

One primary focus when teaching students about the Wetterling case is to address personal safety issues. Teachers can use Jacob’s story as an opportunity to educate students about the importance of being aware of their surroundings and making smart decisions when outside their homes. Topics covered may include:

  1. Stranger danger: Discussing ways to identify potentially harmful situations, how to respond if approached by someone unknown, and the significance of trusting intuition.
  2. Travel safety: Encouraging students to travel in groups or with a trusted adult whenever possible, particularly during evening hours or unfamiliar areas.
  3. Communication: Emphasizing open communication between youth and parents or guardians about daily plans or potential changes to routines.

Fostering Empathy and Understanding

Using real-life examples such as Jacob’s abduction can facilitate empathy for other individuals facing similar trials. Students can be encouraged to record their thoughts and feelings in journal entries or engage in group discussions on how they would feel if they were in similar situations. Educators may want to guide students’ reactions by emphasizing supportive messages that respect privacy while keeping emotions grounded.

Promoting Community Engagement

The Jacob Wetterling case highlights the importance of communities coming together in support and participation. Teachers can use this story to explore various ways that students can be active in their community, including participating in neighborhood watch programs, volunteering with local organizations, and supporting fundraisers for missing children.

In addition, the establishment of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC) to prevent child exploitation and abductions can be used as an example of how individual experiences can spark positive change within a community. Teachers may even consider inviting guest speakers from JWRC or similar organizations to address their classes further.


Incorporating the story of Jacob Wetterling into the classroom provides an opportunity for students to learn important lessons on personal safety, empathy, and community engagement. By discussing real-life situations and examining responses to challenging circumstances, educators can empower their students to make smart decisions and better understand their responsibilities as members of a community.

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