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Kids get their street smarts at Safety Town

Kids get their street smarts at Safety Town


WALWORTH — Safety Town is a safe place where kids can learn to be safe — safely.

The little town, tucked into the gymnasium at Walworth Elementary School, features streets, stop signs and a railroad crossing that makes the sound of a real train when the safety gate is down.

The summer program is for students from junior kindergarten through first grade.

The streets of Safety Town are where kids first learn the rules of the road.

Cathy Boldger, a kindergarten teacher who helped found Walworth’s Safety Town program 24 years ago, guides youngsters through Safety Town.

Most drive four-wheel pedal scooters, although one lucky kid gets to tool around town in the last of the Big Wheel tricycles, which were used when Safety Town was just starting out.

The other Big Wheels wore out, replaced by four-wheel blue and gray scooters, which were donated four years ago by former Police Chief Andy Long.

When in Safety Town, Boldger operates the train crossing, and compliments youngsters for stopping at stop signs and yielding to pedestrians in the cross walks.

Safety Town instructors, mentoring middle school students, act as pedestrians, wandering through the tiny village and crossing streets.

Safety Town itself exists for just one week a year in the summer. This year’s session ran from June 24 to June 28.

Parents pay $25 per child to attend the summer classes. The $25 pays for a T-shirt, a toy fire helmet from the fire department, a car booster seat from the police department, a snack, and materials the children use to create their own Safety Town journals.

During the week, the youngsters are visited by police officer Jessie Lewin, a patrol officer at Big Foot High School.

Lewin said she started teaching Safety Town courses in 2015.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Lewin said of the program. “It reminds kids of all aspects of safety they might not remember.”

Lewin gives presentations on three of the five days, including talks about traffic safety, bike safety and stranger danger. And when the youngsters visit the Walworth Police Department on a field trip, she shows them a police squad car. If the kids insist, she will also handcuff them — temporarily, of course.

Others who come to Safety Town with messages of safety are Ted Pankau of the Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol, who teaches water safety; Judy Lohse, a registered nurse, who teaches poison safety; and veterinarian Kelly Roy of the Lake Geneva Animal Hospital, who teaches animal safety.

The classes are split between morning classes from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and afternoon classes from 12:30 to 4 p.m.

The five Safety Town instructors ranged in age from 11 to 13 and featured two sets of twins, Elliott and Wyatt Vail, 12, and Kelsie and Karla Koening, 11. A.J. Hartmann, 13, was the only nontwin.

Boldger said students who want to be instructors must write a paragraph about why they want to be instructors, and get endorsements from three teachers.

All five instructors went through the Safety Town program when they were little.

“I loved it so much; that’s why I’m an instructor,” Kelsie said.

A.J. said the instructors learn with the younger children, including safety tips they may have missed when they were in the safety classes years ago.

This year, 15 youngsters were in the morning classes, and 11 in the afternoon class.

Safety Town was founded in 1937 by a Mansfield, Ohio, police officer. It was updated and renewed in 1964 by a kindergarten teacher in Bedford, Ohio. There are now more than 3,000 Safety Town programs in the United States.

Boldger said she heard of Safety Town more than 25 years ago, when her son, Eric, now 30, was invited to attend in Lake Geneva.

“I was so impressed with that, that I thought we needed to have one here,” she said.

Boldger said she spoke to businesses and community organizations, and soon a nine-member community committee was formed to organize the Safety Town program. Members of the committee included the late Pam Knorr, Walworth school principal; Kelly Freeman, who was then on the school board; and Boldger.

This year, Freeman’s grandson, Nate Freeman, 6, was one of the participants.

The tiny faux Safety Town village rests on a 100-by-100-foot mat laid down on the gym floor. It is marked off with streets that bear the names of real Walworth village streets.

There’s a post office, a police department, fire department and Walworth Elementary School.

Several of the buildings bears the names of Walworth businesses that were well known in 1995. Some, like the Waal Drug Store, are long gone. Others, like Walworth State Bank, now First National Bank and Trust, are still around, but under different names.

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Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.

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