SOUTH PLAINFIELD - On Friday, August 16th, twenty-five students graduated from South Plainfield’s annual Safety Town program at the PAL Building. Continuing a five decade South Plainfield tradition, children going into kindergarten and first grade have the opportunity to learn about traffic safety, stranger danger, first responders and much more over the course of the two week program. Safety Town ran Monday through Friday, August 5th through August 16th, 9a.m. to 10:30a.m. The cost was $45 per child and included field trips to the South Plainfield Police Department and South Plainfield Fire Department.
“I think the importance of Safety Town is that the kids get to know the community,” said Courtney Hoffman, Safety Town Instructor and Fourth Grade Teacher at Franklin School. “We want them to feel safe in their town and know who to go to if they so have a problem or find themselves in danger, but we want them to know the community will work together to make a safe environment for them.”
Many South Plainfield residents have fond memories from their own childhood of riding big wheels through the painted streets of Safety Town on the pavement in back of Grant School.
“Safety Town is something that our residents rely on,” said Nancy McMahon, Recreation Attendant. “They can’t wait for their kids to be of age so they can go through the program. They love it, especially graduation time.”
“We loved this experience,” said Brittany Louise, parent. “I was in the Safety Town program as a child so I knew when I saw it advertised that I wanted my daughter to be part of it and she loved it. She was excited to come every day. She was excited for the fields trips and she learned a lot. She would come home and sing and let us know all that she learned.”
“It was so much fun having interactions with the kids and seeing how enthusiastic they are about their community,” said Hoffman. “The best thing was when they realized on the first day that they all lived in South Plainfield. They were so excited. They have so much spirit for South Plainfield. It’s amazing."
South Plainfield Recreation Department holds Safety Town yearly and is a much anticipated event. Every year Recreation Attendant Peter Rachwal and his son Andrew transform the PAL gymasium into a town of streets, houses, traffic lights and signs the day before the program begins.
“We really look forward to Safety Town,” said McMahon. “The children are so little and they’re so wonderful. They love the program. Miss Hoffman does a great job. Half of them go into the conference room to learn and hear her speak about stranger danger and other lessons. They color and learn about who to talk to, who not to talk to. And then the other half is in the gym riding tricycles, learning about stop, yield and go.”
“I think Safety Town is great,” said Rachelle Crawley, parent. “We’re new to town so it was an opportunity for my son to get to meet the police, the fire, learn his safety, and get to meet new friends. I think it was really great for him and he had a great time. He enjoyed coming for the past two weeks.”
A team of assistants volunteer to help the children throughout the duration of the program, assisting the young motorists navigate the streets of Safety Town and lending a hand whenever needed.
“The kids are so sweet,” said Volunteer Janay Spaulding, South Plainfield Middle School Eighth Grader. “Safety Town helps the kids learn about the town. It’s just all in all a great experience for the kids and for us.”
“I love interacting with the children because I teach older students during the school year and I love seeing the innocence in their answers and perspective on life,” said Hoffman. “I don’t want to block their innocence, but I do want to make them aware.”
The popular community program includes daily instruction that cover a wide range of topics to teach invaluable lessons that are age appropriate for those going into kindergarten and first grade.
“The children come here for an hour and a half and we have a lesson a day,” said Hoffman. “They learn about wearing a helmet, crossing the street, community helpers, which are the Department, Police Station, and Emergency Medical Technicians. I read a book or we talk about what we already know about that topic and learn skills to help them when they leave here. We also do a craft or art project to go with it and learn our songs. The other half of that time, they’re in the small Safety Town, learning to read signs and traffic lights.”
“This has been a great experience,” said Melissa Czerwinski, parent. “My daughter learned a lot about being safe in her town. They learned about stranger danger and wearing helmets. She loved her trips to the police station and the firehouse.”
An exciting part of the program are the field trips to the police station and firehouse. Being five and six years old, many of the children had never been on a school bus or class trip. Touring the headquarters of South Plainfield’s first responders was an experience they will never forget.
“The children went to the police station and my husband is a police officer in town, so he actually led the field trip,” said Louise. “It was such an incredible experience for them both to share.”
Leading the field trip to the South Plainfield Police Department was Officer Anthony Louise, who most recently received statewide recognition for rescuing an abandoned Red Nose Pit Bull, Sarge, from the brink of death, who has since become become part of the Louise family.
“They came to the police department and we gave them a tour of the inside, so they got to see the cell block where we put bad boys and girls when they come in,” said Officer Louise. “We showed them the offices for our bosses and the shift commander, where we do our reports. I set up a police car for them and they got to play with the lights, sirens, and PA system. I actually lit a flare for them so they could see what happens if there’s an accident scene at night so people can see us and we stay safe.”
Hoffman said the tour of the police station made a lasting impression.
“When the kids saw the holding cells, they said that they never want to go there, especially after they saw the one toilet,” said Hoffman. “It scared them a little bit, but some thought it was cool. They realized that’s where the bad guys go. They each got a chance to say something on the radio in the police car and as soon as they got into the police car, a couple of them took the radio and said, ‘Hands up you bad guys!’ They had so much fun.”
“I love working with kids because they’re always really engaged,” said Louise, who has been with the South Plainfield Police Department for four years. “I was really fortunate to be able to show them the other side of policing because they got to see the station and how it translates to us in the Police Department. Having my daughter there made it all the more special.”
“I had fun,” said four-year-old Brooklyn Louise. “I liked the police station. My favorite part of Safety Town was the bikes. I liked when I was riding it going fast.”
Students also had the opportunity to visit the South Plainfield Fire Department.
“They got to go into the fire truck,” said Hoffman. “They got to squirt the hose. They loved it. They thought it was the best thing. I think the importance for the kids is to know their community and realizing that the police, the fire department, the EMT are all there to keep them safe.”
“When they went to the fire department, my daughter told me all about holding the hose and wearing some of the equipment, going on the fire truck,” said Brittany Louise. “She loved it. The whole Safety Town experience was wonderful for our family.”
Normally, the program runs the entire month of July and includes two sessions. Due to renovations in the elementary schools, the Summer Parks Program was moved to the PAL Building and Safety Town was pushed to August and limited to one session.
“This year, we had to close registration after the first twenty-five students signed up since we could only have one session,” said McMahon. “We’re hoping that next year, all of the summer parks programs go back to normal and we can go back to having Safety Town the whole month of July, where we can have fifty kids instead of limiting it to twenty-five.”
Safety Town remains a South Plainfield tradition that evokes nostalgic memories for countless residents. Children leave with an awareness about all their community does to keep them safe, important safety lessons, new friends and fun memories that will last a lifetime.
"I love the spirit of the children and how excited they were to interact with friends and learn," said Hoffman. "It was a great experience. I always love being the Safety Town Instructor.”
“Safety Town plays a major part in this community and our parents really rely on it,” said McMahon. “It’s an hour and a half of them dropping their children off at an early age and trusting us with their children to learn. And we love just love the kids and the program.”