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Rural safety days help children teach adults
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many national and state campaigns promoting rural safety focus on the responsibility of adults to protect children, but it helps when kids know how to keep themselves safe.
Children remain at risk when adults are careless or disregard what they have learned. Many county Extension offices hold an annual agricultural safety day for children to strengthen the overall effort of reducing risk.
This direct approach uses the education of children to educate adults, said Jeremy Maness, Extension coordinator for the 2007 Smith-Jasper County Safety Days.
“We've had great results with our safety days,” Maness said. “Kids and parents get excited, the schools welcome the event and the whole community gets involved.”
Safety days are designed as a camp and are usually held in a covered arena at the local agricultural complex during the school year. Participants are either fifth- or sixth-grade students, although some counties do include children from fourth grade down through kindergarten.
Children are divided into small groups with a teacher and rotate through 10 to 15 stops. Each stop runs approximately 15 minutes and addresses a topic pertaining to safety or an emergency situation.
“The kids come to camp wearing the T-shirt we provide and are really excited about the event,” he said. “They go back to school and tell the other students how much fun it was and get them excited about next year.”
Some county Extension offices directly sponsor their safety days. Extension personnel organize the event by securing speakers, financial support and community involvement, said Tommy Bishop, Jasper County director.
“Our safety day for sixth graders has been an excellent way to reinforce awareness of certain dangers and the need to be careful,” he said.
Other counties have partnered with the Progressive Agricultural Foundation and the MSU Extension Service to hold a safety day. The foundation provides financial support and Extension provides organization.
Covington County, with sponsorship from the foundation, held the first safety day in the state 11 years ago, according to 4-H youth agent Ellen Russell. More than 400 fifth-grade students have attended each camp. Organizers keep ideas fresh by introducing a new topic for each safety day.
“After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, we added weather safety, which has been extremely popular with the children,” she said.
Many camps feature stops on smoke and fire problems, drug and alcohol awareness, boating and firearm precautions, large animal handling and snakes.
At safety day in Marion County, one presenter used human palm-prints on two live horses to show the correct way to walk around the animals to avoid being kicked, said Kathy Petty, Extension associate and safety day coordinator.
Pearl River County took a unique approach to educating children about alcohol abuse at safety day by using beer goggles to simulate vision and balance problems caused by drinking alcohol, said Meagan Scott, 4-H youth agent.
“The children had to negotiate a series of cones and many of them had a hard time walking or standing up,” Scott said.
The willingness of experts to make presentations at individual stops has been a tremendous help in getting the safety days off to a good start.
County Extension staff also seek feedback to improve future safety days and set aside a brief period at the conclusion of activities for evaluations by children and teachers.
“This is the 10th year that Smith and Jasper counties have had a safety day, and we always have earned high marks from our audience,” Maness said. “We must be doing something right.”
Contact: Jeremy Maness, (601) 782-4454