For 33 years, kids in New Castle County have learned things like how to dial 911 and stop, drop and roll through a beloved program called “Safety Town.”
At the center of the week-long program is a miniature town with child-sized buildings, crosswalks and streets. In the town, 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds learn the rules of the road while driving around in battery-operated cars. Teen volunteers remind the tiny drivers to stop at stop signs and to yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
High school freshman Bryce Kersteter attended Safety Town when he was younger. Now he’s back as a teen volunteer.
“I feel like it’s giving them a sense of how the world works. You know, it’s a lot more dangerous than what it may seem,” Kersteter said. “When they do go out there and they need to do things on their own they’ll be set and prepared and ready to do it.”
When the kids are not in the town, they’re meeting with guest speakers like police officers and firefighters. The program also partners with Prevent Child Abuse Delaware and A.I. duPont Hospital for Children for presentations about good and bad touches and playground safety, respectively. Serious topics are presented in kid-friendly and fun ways.
“The goal is to make them more aware of safety,” said Carol Dougherty, coordinator of Safety Town. “We hope that the concepts the children learn will never have to be used. We hope they don’t have to dial 911, we hope they don’t have to know how to get out of their home in case of a fire, but the idea is that we’ve planted the seed — if they need this information, they have it.”
Safety Town started in Ohio in the 1950s and ’60s, back when safety wasn’t taught in the schools. Crossing guards started the program here in Delaware in the ’80s, initially to teach kids how to cross the street safely, and the program grew from there.
Dougherty said the county spends very little on marketing, but that word of mouth has kept the program going strong for three decades.
“Safety never goes out of style,” she said. “People are always interested in having their children learn about safety.”
The program has been around so long that now a new generation of children are learning these important, timeless lessons. Rhiannon Barlow took part in Safety Town as a preschooler and the same can be said for all three of her boys.
“They’re presenting it in ways that are studied and planned, in ways the kids will understand it better,” Barlow said. “And then you’re reinforcing at home with the same kinds of conversations about all the topics discussed.”
Allen Sylvester is another Safety Town alum.
“I remember a lot of about learning your phone number and just general safety,” Sylvester recalled. “The factors, what they’re learning, could be very important down the road.”
Six hundred kids graduated from the program this year. The county offers 13 week-long sessions at various sites during spring break and throughout the summer.
Registration for 2018 opens on February 9.