PALESTINE — Youngsters pedal trikes along “streets” laid out in the likeness of a miniature town called Safety Town in the northwest corner of Palestine Mall.
Safety Town is dotted with real stop signs, turn signs, one-way signs, no turn signs, railroad signs and other traffic signs.
“I learned safety is important,” said Meg Barrett, 10.
Most children who come to Safety Town range in age from 3 to 11.
Learning about road signs and pedestrian and motor rules is just one of many safety lessons conveyed to children by Safety Town.
Part of a national program, Safety Town was set up by Rotary Club of Palestine.
Other types of safety taught in Safety Town through speakers, videos and other means include safety with electricity, gun safety, safety on the Internet, train safety, and safety school buses.
The presentation varies, depending on availability of speakers, but safety is the theme and basic topic for children.
The most recent group of youngsters to visit Safety Town were children in the summer reading program of Palestine Public Library in June and July.
Youth Librarian Jamie King said, “It enhances their awareness of safety rules, road signs and things such as that. (It) makes them aware they are not the only ones on the street and how dangerous it is if they don't listen for cars and watch for cars … Safety Town is just an incentive for awareness.”
At start of the Safety Town session for children in the library's summer reading program, Ms. King read a Department of Public Safety book that taught several safety lessons. For example, it advised children to use cross walks when crossing the street, to exercise safety on school buses, to follow road rules and to keep in mind that texting while driving is dangerous.
“It's interesting,” said Mary Taynes, who said she brought her son Dalton, 10, “so he can learn about safety.”
Similarly, Kristi Starr said she brought her children, Kylie, 9, and Jaden, 8, “to learn how to be safe when they are out and about in the neighborhood and when we are going through town.”
Safety Town, Ms. Starr said, “is very realistic for them and I think it's giving them a good idea of how we maintain vehicles on the road … I think it helps them understand driving rules and have a sense of responsibility.”
Tennessee Hunt wanted her grandson Jared, 9, to participate in Safety Town to keep up to date on safety tips and safety rules for riding a bike. “I love safety town,” she said. “It's very educational for the kids if they will listen to what she's telling them to do about safety.”
More groups and area school systems are expected to visit Safety Town in the future.
“We (Rotarians) just got the idea (for Safety Town) to give kids more information about being safe,” said Mike Abrahamson, project chairman.
Rotarians constructed Safety Town last year, using two by fours and pins to keep them in place to form curbing for streets and purchased the trikes and helmets.
The approximately 99 foot by 50 foot rectangular town outlines streets representing streets in downtown Palestine. Posted in the town are traffic signs – stop signs, one-way signs, railroad signs and others.
As children peddle through the town, they must abide by the signs in a safe manner. They are required to wear helmets and peddle safely.
There are plans to build miniature structures to represent different businesses to make it look more like a little town. One could be a bank, a school, a jail, a fire station and a courthouse.
“It's going to be an ongoing thing for as many years as we can,” Abrahamson said, explaining that Safety Town can be moved to a new site if for any reason it cannot stay in the mall.
“This coming year we're hoping for another grant that will allow us to put in buildings,” said Hugh Summers, a member of Rotary's Safety Town committee that built Safety Town.
It was modeled after a Safety Town in Huntsville, Abrahamson said, although there are many Safety Towns around in places such as Longview, Frisco and Shreveport.
Safety Town informs children more about safety, telling them things they've never heard before and re-enforcing what they may have been told by parents or heard in school, Abrahamson said.
“It might save somebody's life someday just because they heard about it (safety) one extra time. If we save one kid, whether we know about it or not, it's worth it,” he added.
When children arrive, they are organized into classes and each class spends about 15 minutes at each station.
For example, the sheriff's department has led a session on gun safety, traffic signs and safe crossing of roads while a representative of Oncor talked about safety with electricity. Other session leaders have talked about safety around railroad tracks, pedestrian safety, bicycle safety, safety on the Internet and making a 9-1-1 emergency call.