For several kindergartners in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, the usual first-day-of-school jitters were replaced with confidence. Why? Because this summer, they attended “Safety Town” camp, a five-day camp, hosted by the Monroeville Parks and Recreation Department. Designed to teach safety skills to children entering kindergarten, this program has been around since 1937 when it was founded by police officer Frend Boals in Mansfield, Ohio.
“I’ve been offering the program since 2008,” says JoAnne Morris, Monroeville’s program and special events director, “but I first learned about it when I registered my oldest son (who is now 34).”
In addition to learning important information they’ll need to know if they were to ever get lost — their parent’s names, telephone numbers and addresses; how to safely cross the street; understanding street signs and traffic lights; and avoiding “stranger danger” — each day, the children also learn about a specific safety area from a certified public safety official: police, fire, water, home and school bus safety. On school bus safety day, the last day of the program, after listening to a school crossing guard about how to be safe while waiting for and getting on a school bus, the campers get to ride an actual school bus and take a short ride around the school complex.
“To put this program together takes a lot of coordination to get all the speakers there on the particular day I need them,” says Morris. “The biggest challenge always seems to be arranging for a school bus with the school district. I believe letting the children have an opportunity to get on the big yellow bus with no parents helps to alleviate some of the fear on that first day of school.”
Some parents of kindergartners also experience first-day jitters, and Morris has observed that Safety Town camp is as much a growing experience for the parents as it is for the children. She adds: “Parents have approached me saying that this is a program that all children heading to kindergarten should be required to attend. Their children have learned so much in a short time, and it has helped to put their fears to rest.”
—Sonia Myrick is the Executive Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine