Police, sheriff’s office team up for first Lakota Safety Village

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The West Chester Police Department and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office have teamed up to host a safety village for children entering kindergarten.

The program, which runs until the first week of August at Lakota West Freshmen Campus, teaches pedestrian and bike safety, fire safety, bus safety, stranger danger, school safety drills, PAX behavior skills and school expectations.

“It makes them more prepared for school and what to expect,” Gary Gabbard, an officer with the West Chester Police Department and school resource officer at Shawnee Early Childhood School, said. “It helps not only in school but outside of school as well.”

With a capacity of 25 children per session, the safety village teaches children interactively with vision boards, videos, games, songs and demonstrations.

The children begin the week by learning about stranger danger and Alice training.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

On Tuesday, they learn about pedestrian and traffic safety. They practice what they’ve learned by riding carts around a model village complete with buildings of the Safety Village sponsors like Skyline Chili, Home Depot and Target West Chester.

The children also have “PAX” training that prepares them for kindergarten by teaching classroom etiquette and rewarding good behavior rather than reprimanding bad behavior. PAX is Latin for peace.

The children learn about bus safety on Wednesday and ride in a bus provided by Petermann Bus.

On Thursday, children learn about fire safety with firemen and a firetruck.

The Safety Village wraps up on Friday with a recap of what the children learned throughout the week and a graduation ceremony.

“It is so much fun,” Gabbard said, “It reminds me that all the hard work was worth it.”

Gabbard started planning the Lakota Safety Village about a year ago but only had six months to put it together.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The idea for the safety village was driven by Jim and Susan Butler, who lost their three grandchildren, Alex, Aubrey and Braden, in a house fire in 2007. Their vision was to create a permanent safety town where children could learn water, traffic, home and fire safety, but they could not get the land they needed.

“This is the best we can get at this point right now, and this can possibly build down the road, so it’s extremely exciting,” Jim Butler said.

The Lakota Safety Village honored the grandchildren with a street sign of their names in the model town.

The idea to include the PAX training in the Safety Village was first brought to Gabbard’s attention by his colleagues at Shawnee Early Childhood School. He asked other kindergarten teachers in the Lakota School District what they wanted children to learn in the summer before coming to school, and they all responded with PAX.

Gabbard partnered with Deputy Amanda Dixon of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and SRO with Cherokee Elementary to put the program together. Gabbard also asked for teacher volunteers throughout the Lakota School District to help out. Although Gabbard said he appreciates the help he has received, he is always looking for more volunteers.

Molly Parker, whose child is participating in the Safety Village, heard about it while working at Shawnee Early Childhood School with Gabbard. She said she would recommend it to other parents to ensure their children know how to be safe in various situations.

“It’s such a great opportunity for them to learn about all the different ways to be safe: fire safety, road safety, bus safety,” Parker said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Brittany Slaven, whose daughter also attends the Safety Village, said it is important to offer the camp at this age before they start going to school all day.

“I think that it’s important that they learn stranger danger and bus safety and fire safety as they’re getting ready to be away all day from their parents,” Slaven said.

There are still a few open spots to sign up for the Lakota Safety Village. There are two sessions: a morning class from 8 to 10 a.m. and an afternoon class from noon to 2 p.m. Parents interested in the program can sign up online at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0d49aeac2aa5f9c34-lakota.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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