Mention the subject of safety to kids and their eyes glaze over with looks of “Really?” … “Already know it” .. or “Boring with a capital B!” You get the picture. Year after year school aged students learn about safety – bicycle safety, fire safety, and the list goes on.
But for the students in kindergarten through third grade at Wolford Elementary School recently, globs of green icing means “go” and baking a cake with two eggs remind students that there are two exits in the room where they are watching a group of clowns demonstrate safety while baking a birthday cake. Smiles, laughter, cheers and applause became an integral piece of learning about safety.
The McTown Klownz, part of the McKinney Fire Department , tackle the topic of safety in a funny , often hilarious way, using everyday events, such as birthdays, to help kids understand the importance of safety. Presenting a serious subject in an entertaining fashion is the goal, said Brent Rollins who started the award winning show as a one man production some 22 years ago.
Although fire prevention week is early in October, the group is booked by McKinney’s elementary schools during much of September, October and November. The group of seven includes Brent Rollins (Hoser), Jason Newell (Siren), Khalil Martin (Blaze), Terry Carr (Bucky), Sean Stephens, Eric Daniels (Plug) and Kristie McCauley (Daisy). They volunteer their time when they are not on duty with the department, delivering a message that they deem a critical part of education while visiting schools in McKinney and beyond. Except for McCauley, who has been a dispatcher with McKinney Fire Department for 14 years, all members of the group are firemen.
“It requires lots of time and effort,” Rollins said. “We see a lot of kids that we know we need to be proactive with. We base our shows on the major calls that hospitals receive.”
If, for example, the hospitals are seeing an increase in head injuries due to lack of the use bicycle helmets, then the group will write a script that includes the topic of bicycle safety.
“Its all about making safety fun,” said Kristie McCauley, who plays Daisy and has been a part of the group of clowns “on and off for six to seven years.”
Rollins explained that fire prevention week is typically a fireman showing up in uniform to talk to students about fire safety. “This education is important,” Rollins said but I realized that holding kids’ attention with the uniform only lasted so long. I thought this (the concept of a clown show) would educate while entertaining.”
The message the clowns present is making a difference. Rollins said that there have been “five or six documented saves” as a result of the shows that they have presented to students.
All members of the group nodded in agreement as Rollins explained, “It’s (clowning and sharing the message of safety) a passion for all of us and it’s strictly volunteer.” They are often asked to share their expertise with other fire departments which aspire to have a clown unit. Extra time is given to assist other fire departments lean the methodology. The McTown members attend the National Clown College and the Texas LAFS Conference to learn share ideas when their schedules allow.
Appearing enthusiastic and excited about what they had learned, second graders Nathan, Gabby, Rebecca, Avery and Addie, sporting big grins, said they learned “a lot” during the safety presentation.
Nathan said, “I learned to never play in the kitchen unless you are three feet away, and Gabby said she reminded “to turn the handles on pans on the stove on inside” (so they aren’t sticking out over the cooktop where they could get knocked off).” Avery said she learned to, “Put your helmet on the right way.” Addie also said she learned “not to play in the kitchen.”
Rebecca learned “to turn off all of the equipment before you leave the house.” The students all chimed in that they learned “to never play with tools and to make sure tools are picked up so that no one gets hurt.”
The students seemed to love the funny parts of the presentation given by the McTown Klownz. “It was funny when the clown’s nose fell off, and when the flour added to the cake made farting sounds,” was among the comments, and it was clear that clowning around with a serious subject does make an impact.