February 25, 2003
Statewide injury prevention program combines safety message with a year-long civics lesson
By Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—After two years of encouraging elementary school students to play it safe, Think First, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s statewide injury prevention program, is beginning a new campaign—one that combines a safety message with a year-long civics lesson.
The Think First team will run its mascot, Sammy Safety, for Governor, campaigning in elementary schools all across the state. The program hopes to encourage students to become more interested in the way government works, while stressing the importance of injury prevention.
“This is a natural fit for us,” said Think First coordinator Lisa Gates. “For the last two years we’ve been running a campaign in schools that focuses on the importance of wearing bike helmets and seat belts and teaching students to always think first about their safety. Connecting it to the curiosity young children will have about the governor’s race just gives us another way to more effectively spread our message.”
Since March 2001, more than 16,000 Mississippi children have heard that message through school-based programs. And one of the most popular parts of those programs has been mascot, Sammy Safety, a rather large 5-year-old who always wears a bike helmet and seat belt. As a certified safety super hero, Sammy works with Gates and others on the Think First team, including firefighters, police officers, paramedics, therapists and physicians from Methodist Rehab.
Whether dancing across the stage in his size 18 shoes, demonstrating the proper way to wear a bike helmet or showing kids how to stop, drop and roll if caught on fire, Sammy makes learning about safety a fun and memorable experience, said Jim Albritton, public relations director at Methodist Rehab.
“Auditoriums can get pretty loud when he enters,” Albritton said. “Children who weren’t paying much attention before really sit up and take notice when they see Sammy. And you can’t help but smile when you see him dance across the stage to an ‘NSync song.”
Think First is designed to entertain and inform children, said Gates. “The speakers, Sammy and all the other elements give students a chance to see how important it is to prevent traumatic injuries. And the response from educators has been wonderful. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”
Think First has visited Spann Elementary School in Jackson five times. “The program has had a huge impact on our students from the very beginning,” said principal Darlene Harmon. “There was a noticeable difference in our students after their first visit. They were more orderly on the playground, and you could even hear them talking about wearing helmets and seatbelts.”
Sammy’s campaign for Governor kicks off Feb. 26 at 9 a.m. at Madison Ridgeland Academy in Madison when he announces his entry into the race on the Safety and Injury Prevention Party’s (SIPPY) ticket. Over the next few months, Sammy and the Think First team will campaign in elementary schools from Gulfport to Tupelo. And just like any other candidate, he’ll be seen at a variety of photo opportunities, all designed to spread his injury prevention message.
Complete with campaign posters and bumper stickers, Sammy’s campaign will give children an opportunity to get involved in the political process just like their parents, signing petitions, attending rallies and even casting a vote for their favorite super hero.