At each Jenison elementary school, there are a dedicated group of 6th graders who fulfill a variety of protective roles for our Kindergartners. Kevin Gort, 6th grade teacher at Bauerwood and Leader of the Safeties says, “The roles range from helping Kindergartners get to their correct buses to standing out at the crosswalk in freezing cold temperatures waiting for the crossing guard to stop traffic on Bauer Road so the kids can cross safely.”
There is a process to becoming a safety and it begins in 5th grade with a presentation by current safeties sharing what they like and don’t like about the position, qualities you need to succeed at being a safety and why they chose to fulfill this role. If a 5th grader is interested they complete an application and 5th grade teachers are given a chance to weigh in as well, with remarks such as “turns homework in on time”, “has integrity”, “is kind of others”, and “respects authority”. Even specials teachers are given the opportunity to voice their opinion on applicants because they get to know students in a unique environment, over multiple years. Once the roster is selected, training begins.
Mr Gort looks for three things in a potential safety: integrity, empathy, and willingness to problem solve. These three qualities show that a safety can be trusted to act appropriately, even when an adult may not be present, which is a major piece of responsibility for a safety, especially when it comes to managing disagreements between other students. “There is not a lot of glory or awards associated with being a safety, but many student safeties will tell you that the reward is in those Kindergartners’ hugs and smiles that are given or in the few thank you’s from parents and/or staff members that are said to a safety as they hold the door open. ”
If you think the Kindergartner doesn’t know or appreciate their safety, Mr Gort says, think again. “I am always amazed at the bonds the safeties make with the little ones they take care of. I do not think these safeties know how important they are and how their Kindergartners look forward to seeing them everyday. One story in regards to how impressionable a safety is to a Kindergartner happened at 6th grade camp. I was with a Junior Counselor, who is in high school, and a 6th grade student walked right up to him and said “you were my safety when I was in Kindergarten.” Both the high school student and the 6th grade student began talking about what bus they transported to, the other students in the line, etc. I was amazed that this memory stuck with this student for so many years. ”
Because the qualities of a good safety [problem solving, integrity, and empathy] are valuable, lifelong skills, the role of a safety carries on well past 6th grade. “When students move on with life after being a safety my hope is that they find other ways to serve in this world. Helping others without having to be recognized or rewarded is a quality that seems to be missing these days. Having a selfless servant heart is something to strive for everyday and a great place to start is finding a way to help another person.”
“If I could challenge the Jenison community…no matter what building you live by or whether your kids attend school, it would be absolutely awesome if you would thank a safety for faithfully serving their school. You would make a safety’s day if you went out of your way just to say thank you.”