Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 12:14 am | Fair 67º


Children Heed Danger Warnings at ‘Safety Town’

The weeklong camp provides a safe setting for youngsters to learn about dangerous issues

Local kindergartners and first-graders practiced their “superhero yells” Thursday at the “Stranger Danger” session of Safety Town, a weeklong camp aimed at teaching children all about safety before they enter the school system.

From fire and earthquake safety to traffic signs and stranger danger, the kids are exposed to the potential dangers around them.

“They are at a stage in development when they are getting ready to become more independent,” Safety Town coordinator Anne Gould said. “They need to be able to distinguish between safe and unsafe.”

Sponsored by Soroptimist International of Santa Barbara, Safety Town is a 35-year-old tradition that prepares more than 500 children every summer. Safety Town includes a miniature town equipped with traffic signs and tricycles where kids are able to practice what they learn in the classroom. Police officers, firefighters, forest rangers, paramedics, water safety professionals and others give hand-on presentations spread out over five days.

Ann Bryant, prevention and parenting coordinator from Child Abuse Listening & Mediation, visited Safety Town at Isla Vista School in Goleta on Thursday to teach kids about “good touches,” “bad touches” and “secret touches.”

“For many kids entering kindergarten, this is their first time away from mom and dad,” Bryant said. “They may find themselves in many new and unfamiliar places with strangers.”

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, about 800,000 juveniles are reported missing each year and 400,000 are reported as new victims of sexual assault.

“Safety Town empowers them and builds their self-esteem,” Gould said. “They have the right to protect their body. The kids become more aware of that uh-oh feeling and learn to tell someone they trust.”

“Mom and Dad don’t own your body. President (Barack) Obama doesn’t own your body,” Bryant said. “You own your body.”

Kids in bright yellow shirts eagerly called out examples of good touches — “petting your dog,” “holding hands” and “touching your dad’s hair.”

Reaching into their imaginations, they came up with plenty of bad touches, too — “punching someone in the face,” “throwing shoes,” “poking someone in the eye” and “trying to tie someone up at the back of the bus.”

Safety Town is equipped with traffic signs and tricycles where kids practice what they learn in the classroom
Safety Town is equipped with traffic signs and tricycles where kids practice what they learn in the classroom. (Andrea Ellickson / Noozhawk photo)

Calmly broaching an unnerving issue, Bryant discussed the “secret touch,” which involves “parts of the bodies covered by bathing suits or underwear.” She clarified when it is appropriate for others to touch private parts, such as bath time with mom and dad or visits to the doctor.

However, she emphasized the right to say no to inappropriate touches.

“Don’t just scream and yell like you would in a playground,” she said. “You need to yell ‘No!’ so people will come help you. You need to run away and tell a grownup.”

Facing a firing squad of 65 children yelling at the top of their lungs, Bryant encouraged them to be loud and confident.

“I’ll send Safety Town my bill for a hearing aid,” she joked.

Surrounded by certified teachers, community professionals and volunteer counselors-in-training from local high schools, children can feel safe while they learn about dangerous issues. Coloring books and art sessions help reinforce the message.

“Everyone remembers Safety Town,” Gould said. “It really has a lasting effect.”

Program assistant Derek Calzada began volunteering as a counselor for Safety Town when he was a freshman at Dos Pueblos High School and has been with the program for seven years. Even though he now lives in Orange County, he comes back every summer for the 11-week program hosted at local elementary schools — Isla Vista, Foothill, Franklin, Aliso and El Camino.

“I come back because it’s a great message,” Calzada said. “It gives them a solid safety education. You never know when the kids might have to use it.”

Noozhawk intern Andrea Ellickson, a UCSB graduate, is a journalism student at SBCC. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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