Imagine giving kindergarteners the chance to drive on busy roads complete with railroad tracks, one-way streets and stop lights.
“Vrmmmm! Watch me! Watch me!” said one small boy, as he zoomed across a railroad track and through a red light inside the miniature town.
I was with a group of 5- and 6-year-olds on a field trip to a school gym that had been transformed into a pint-sized city packed with buildings that reached my shoulders and streets no wider than sidewalks.
The Iberville Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness and a slew of businesses help sponsor Safety Town each year. The program is designed to teach young students about safety, from how to make a 911 call, to crossing a train track safely, to fire safety, including “stop, drop and roll.”
The program is engaging.
The child who sped through the railroad crossing in the mini town was in for a surprise. Belinda Buquoi, a safety town volunteer, spotted his infraction and gave him a ticket.
“You have to stop and look both ways,” Buquoi reminded him. “Don’t ride anything on the railroad tracks.”
It wasn’t long before the same child entered a one-way lane and crashed into another passing kindergartener. “Pay attention to the signs,” volunteers warned him.
Buquoi has volunteered with Safety Town for about 18 years, and uses her music teacher skills to get youngsters excited about safety.
In the “Red Light Song,” Buquoi teaches children to “look both ways, look both ways” before crossing a street.
Her patient smile and her firm and gentle voice are convincing to the children. “They’re just 5. They want a hug and a lot of one-on-one,” Buquoi said.
And when police and fire department officials show up, children get to ask questions. During one session, an Iberville sheriff’s deputy pulled out his handcuffs. About a dozen children gasped.
Lt. Will Danielfield and school resource officer James Washington calmed the youngsters’ fears. “The police are our friends,” Washington said.
Two years ago, my then 5-year-old daughter went to Safety Town where she earned her first bicycle helmet. She still insists on wearing it. She recites the “stop, drop and roll” song, reminds everyone in the van to buckle up, and, if she notices me driving too fast when approaching a yellow light, she cautions me to slow down, never text and drive and to not yell at other drivers when I’m mad.
Good advice from a kid who is only 7, huh?
In addition to educating our children, Safety Town is a great reminder for parents of the importance of teaching our kids simple things, such as their home address and phone number.
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.