Learning not to talk to strangers, when it’s safe to cross the street and that police officers aren’t really going to take a child to jail for not eating vegetables are just a few things children attending Safetytown in Marietta are learning this week.
Safetytown has been a staple in the community for 36 years, and 185 children, ages 4 to 6, across Washington and parts of Wood counties signed up this year to attend Marietta’s Samuel R. Cook Safetytown, held at Harmar Elementary School.
Sheena Arnold, 30, of Marietta, enrolled her son, Justin, 5, in Marietta’s nine-day annual Safetytown event, free to participants.
“(I enrolled him) mainly because all of the criminal activity around here lately; the robberies and people breaking into places,” she said. “I thought it would be a good experience (for him) right now. He seems to love it, especially the cop cars this morning.”
Justin said he’s learned many things in just the two days he’s been attending the program.
“I’ve learned never to talk to strangers and never to get into a car with them, or truck,” he said. “And you never take stuff from them.”
Sheena said her son told her about a safety measure for picking him up.
“He told me about having a pass code for someone to pick you up,” she said. “If somebody comes to pick him up and they don’t know the code, he’s not to go with them.”
Officers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Washington County Sheriff’s Office were on-site at Safetytown Tuesday, the second day of the program.
Patrol Trooper Tim Gossett said Safetytown is a way to break down barriers.
“I think from our standpoint, the biggest thing is so kids aren’t afraid to approach us if and when they need help,” he said. “Some parents may say, ‘If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll go to jail.’ That’s not the case; we don’t take kids to jail. (Participating in Safetytown) is so (kids) get used to us and so they know who we are and what we do.”
Likewise, Sheriff’s Deputy Craig Brockmeier said some children have a fear of officers, and the hope is to mitigate that fear.
“I’m a lot like your parents, guys and girls,” Brockmeier told the children. “We’re out here to protect you guys, but we don’t want you to be afraid of us.”
Brockmeier said Marietta’s Safetytown is a great one and it is important for children to attend.
“It gives the kids something to do during the day; they can enjoy and learn,” said Brockmeier. “Each of them (today) knew the safety rules and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been doing it for 10 years or so and I’ve had a ball.”
Alison Woods, lead teacher of Safetytown, said that the event is something all children should participate in.
“The importance of Safetytown is to teach kids safety with crossing the street, not talking to strangers and about safety (in general),” Woods said. “They’ll all get a (bicycle) helmet next week. We talk about construction safety, car safety; how to sit, buckle up and behave; We did weather safety (Tuesday) and (the kids were) able to look inside (police) cars and get inside the cars and basically we teach them not to be afraid of police officers.”
Woods said a lot of Safetytown is pedestrian safety too, which takes place on a Safetytown course.
“Starting (today) they get to use the cars (on the course) and be drivers and pedestrians,” she said. “They stop at the stop light and can be pedestrians (crossing the street). We’ll do practice walks in Harmar Village too, and cross real streets.”
Woods said the course in Safetytown got a revamp this year with new buildings courtesy of Offenberger & White and Marietta College.
Abigail Spung, creative director at Offenberger & White, said the goal was to update the buildings because they were so old and were safety issues for the children.
“Discount Signs and Awnings produced all the graphics,” she said. “Our staff worked with the follow-through…We oversaw things to make sure everybody got what they needed…We used real textures with collage styling (for the buildings).”
Rotary Past President Colleen Cook said the number of those attending Safetytown is nearly 200 every year and that next year a new pair of characters will make an appearance; Safety Sam and Samantha.
The time to sign up for Safetytown next year is going to be the first week of May, said Cook.
“(Safetytown) should be June 15 to 25, 2015,” she said. “We take registration forms to every elementary school.”
Other communities holding Safetytown events are Barlow-Vincent, Beverly and Belpre, whose events occurred around the first week of June.
Meredith Sprague, 35, of Devola, enrolled her son, Ayden, 5, into Safetytown, and said it brought back memories for her.
“I went to Safetytown as a kid and remembered it from when I was little,” she said. “I think it’s important to learn safety rules about crossing the street and meeting the police officers.”
Ayden said “it’s good” being enrolled in the program and one lesson he’s taken away is “Stop, look, (listen) and then cross the road.”
Sprague said the event is fun for children as well as educational.
“They get to make puppets and get frisbees,” she said. “It’s fun for them, too. Plus they get to interact with a lot of kids besides preschool (classes) and it gets them ready for kindergarten. It’s definitely a great program.”