Mary Katherine Murphy
More than 40 preschool children received a crash course this week in staying safe and aware of the world around them.
Safety Town, an annual week-long course organized by United Way, was held at Washington Park Elementary School.
“The goal of Safety Town is to reduce accidental injuries and deaths of children through a safety-based education program and to break down a child’s fear of police officers and other agencies who are there to help our community,” said Debbie Grant, United Way executive director.
Children learned basic fire, animal, and traffic safety through presentations from law enforcement officers and public safety personnel. This year’s lessons included bite prevention from the Scotland County Humane Society, stranger danger and canine safety from the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office, school bus safety, traffic safety from the Laurinburg Police Department, and other lessons from the Scotland County chapter of the American Red Cross and the Laurinburg Pilot Club.
A presentation from the Laurinburg, Gibson, and Laurel Hill fire departments allowed students close inspection of a real fire engine while firemen dispensed valuable fire safety tips.
“We teach basic fire preventions and fire safety, and make sure that they know what to do in an emergency,” said Leroy Taylor of the Gibson Volunteer Fire Department. “We know that kids have a short attention span sometimes, but as long as they get the basics, everything else will come to them. We get them used to the trucks so if they ever make contact with them, they won’t be scared.”
Children put their fire safety skills into practice in a smoke house designed to acclimate children to the experience of being inside a burning building. The house’s doors heat as they would in the case of a fire, and children practiced crawling outside when the house began to fill with smoke.
“They can see what it’s like in the smoke house,” Taylor said. “God forbid they’ll ever be in a situation like that, but if they are, hopefully they’ll remember the exercise they went through today,” said Taylor.
Safety Town, Grant said, is truly a “community project,” orchestrated entirely by volunteers, including Scotland High School’s cheerleading squad, and the support of local businesses. Snacks provided to the children throughout the week were donated by Service Thread. Those involved with the program say that cultivating children’s awareness of their own safety is imperative, and that the children seem to retain the information well at four to six years of age.
“This is a really good program because, at this age, children will remember a lot that they learned this past week,” said Joanne McNair, a teaching assistant at I.E. Johnson Elementary School in her ninth year of volunteering with Safety Town. “They come in singing the little songs that they learn and talking about what they’ve seen and heard. Sometimes, in the schools, when we do Community Week, these organizations will come out and show them stuff - it’s an adventure for the children.”
Another aim of Safety Town is to encourage students to talk with their families about safety procedures established in their own homes.
“We have wonderful packages for them to take home and stuff for them to share with their families - making sure that they know their names, address, and to meet them at the mailbox in an emergency,” said McNair.
McNair guided students through short stories, crafts, and other activities designed to reinforce what they learned in each day’s presentations. “Introducing safety awareness procedures at the preschool age is essential toward developing a safe attitude in our children,” Grant added. “I’ve enjoyed having the children this week - they have been excited, which gets us adults excited as well.”