An organization that encourages elementary students to prioritize school safety, all the while teaching responsibility, respect, cooperation and altruism: That is the Key Largo School’s Safety Patrol program in a nutshell.
Safety Patrol, which has been in existence at KLS for more than four decades, is a national program founded in 1920 by the American Automobile Association (AAA). The program began as a way to foster a safer school environment, both in the classroom and in walking to and from school. In addition to pedestrian and classroom safety, the program aims to instill leadership and good citizenship. The Safety Patrol pledge promises to report for duty on time, perform duties faithfully, report dangerous student practices, obey teachers and officers, earn respect from fellow students and prevent traffic crashes by setting a good example.
Members of the Safety Patrol are “on duty” as soon as they don their neon green belts and accompanying badges, which they wear at all times when at school. At KLS, on-duty responsibilities include raising the flag, saying the pledge, recycling, helping younger students in the cafeteria for breakfast, and, most importantly, encouraging safe traffic practices through escorting fellow students. Every day, Safety Patrol students walk children, aged kindergarten to second grade, to and from their bus and parent pickup sections.
“I think the students feel empowered when they wear their Safety Patrol belt; they feel special,” said Ofelia Wiltz, KLS media specialist and Safety Patrol co-sponsor. “They accept a certain amount of responsibility and know they are supposed to set the example for other students.”
Joining the KLS Safety Patrol is something many students look forward to years before they are even eligible. Each student who joins is nominated by their fourth-grade teachers and/or special area teachers (art, music, PE, etc.). When considering a student for nomination, the teachers factor in behavior, attendance, attitude and academics.
“As educators, we know that kids will be kids – they will not be perfect,” said Wiltz. “However, Safety Patrol students are held to a higher standard as they act as role models for the students around them.”
As sponsors, Wiltz, along with co-sponsor and KLS fifth- and sixth-grade varying exceptionalities teacher Jessica Shafer, make it their responsibility to help ensure the program’s success by guiding both the patrols and their parents and providing support. The students, with help from their parents, work very hard throughout the school year to raise money for their end-of-year trip to Washington, D.C. – a tradition that was launched in 1948 by AAA and has since become the highlight of the school year for many children. This trip is meant to thank students for the work they put in throughout the year, as well as teach them about the nation’s capital. During the trip, they visit historical locations like the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and Mount Vernon.
Over the course of the year, in addition to their safety duties, the students participate in community service projects and raise money for their trip through school dances, Cherrydale and Yankee Candle sales, auctions and their largest event – the annual Fish Fry. Shafer said KLS is unique in that fundraising pays for every Safety Patrol member who wants to attend the D.C. trip – most schools raise some of the money and the family must pay the difference.
Quickly approaching, the next Safety Patrol fundraiser is the Fish Fry, set for Jan. 24, and every Patrol member is required to sell 10 tickets. You may see the students sporting their Sam Browne-style belts selling tickets at local Winn Dixies, Publix or K-Mart – one student recently dressed as a shark to draw attention! (That sounds like dedication.)
Of the 90 students in the KLS fifth grade class, 36 of them are part of the Safety Patrol, and Wiltz and Shafer are proud of each of them. They attribute the success of the program to the students and their parents for their wonderful support and commitment to making Safety Patrol a fantastic program and experience for everyone.