WEST MILTON — After over a decade of dormancy, the Milton-Union school district has brought back the Safetytown program for its youngest students.
The five-day program, which ran Monday through Friday this week, is designed to teach incoming kindergartners safety practices using hands-on activities and exposure to real-life safety officials and vehicles.
“When I moved back to the district in 2013, I realized the program was gone,” said Milton-Union educator Jenn Shade, who led the program’s rejuvenation. “My oldest at the time was going into kindergarten, and I thought it was a shame that such a neat program was gone from the community.
“I participated in at as a child and as a helper. I saw how rewarding it was, and it good it was at bridging the gap for kids coming into kindergarten. It helps take away a lot of those nerves of being in a school setting and establishing the importance of safety.”
According to Shade, the program was brought back through grants from three different sources, including www.donorschoose.org, the McDonald’s Grant for Educators, and the Miami County Foundation.
“The grant for the mats alone came to over $5,000,” Shade said. “We put in for a grant with DonorsChoose.org, and there was a company that came through and sponsored everything on the site that day. Our grant was approved, and that was very exciting.”
Throughout the week, volunteers hosted students for 90 minutes each day. Kids began with classroom activities, such as coloring and educational videos, in order to be exposed to basic safety concepts.
Kids then met a special guest from the community, including law enforcement officers from West Milton Police Department and Miami County Sheriff’s Office on Monday, the West Milton Fire Department on Tuesday, Emergency Medical Services on Wednesday, and Milton-Union school bus drivers on Thursday. Each guest appeared on site with the vehicles they use to keep the community safe.
“It’s beneficial to reinforce safety practices first-hand,” Shade said. “Exposure to the firemen, policemen, and EMS helps kids to realize these are good people in our community that are here to help us. These are kids who haven’t been to school yet, so doing Safetytown in a school setting is also helping them to prepare some basic skills for kindergarten. All the kids got to ride on the bus today, and many of them had never even been on a bus before, so that should lessen apprehension on their first day.”
Due to its absence from the district, this marked the first exposure many community professonials had to the Safetytown program, though its positive impact on children was immediately clear.
“I helped out at Troy’s program this year to get some personal training with Safetytown,” said West Milton Patrolman Jason Stevens. “It became clear as we prepared how many communities around us do the program. Troy does one. Tipp City does one. Vandalia, Franklin, and Riverside all do it. It’s just a great way to help kids learn.”
Each day of the program ended with activities within Safetytown itself, a miniature city comprised of playhouses and detailed vinyl mats set up in the school’s gymnasium. Using big-wheel trikes equipped with seat belts, kids are able to directly exercise such practices as buckling up before a drive, follow traffic light and stop sign regulations, and safely maneuvering crosswalks and railroad tracks.
“I think there’s some things we take for granted and assume that kids know, even if they don’t,” Shade said. “There are basic things like knowing to calling 911 that we may assume they know, but it’s important that we take the time to reinforce them.”
The Safetytown program concludes on Friday with a graduation ceremony, in which the 20-25 participating students sing various safety songs, receive a certificate from an officer, and demonstrate for their families the practices in Safetytown they’ve learned throughout the week.
“From the moment I moved back to West Milton, it’s been my goal to make this happen,” Shade said. “It’s such a positive thing for the community. This week has been a huge deal, and it’s a dream come true for more people in the community to get to experience it.”
“Mrs. Shade has done all the leg work, and deserves 110 percent credit for this being kicked back off,” Stevens said. “I can’t say enough positive things about her. She’s put her heart and soul into bringing this back. The police department and the sheriff’s office are here for support, but if it wasn’t for her efforts, none of this would be happening.”