EAST MANATEE -- Kay Thorson's best advice for children who feel threatened or unsafe in a situation: "Run away fast and run away far."
Dressed in black and yellow stripes and a headband with colorful antenna, Thorson was one of five volunteers who taught Gene Witt Elementary Schools students basic tips on safety.
After saving undistributed books and stuffe bees for the past five or six years, the first-grade students were given copies of "Let's B Safe" and a stuffed plush bumblebee by volunteers from the Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks Lodge
The lodge has worked to bring the safety program to first grade students at Freedom Elementary School for the past five years and has never had enough grant money to sponsor two schools, said Kay Thorson. This year, the rollover grant money was able to support the program at both schools.
"We love doing it," Thorson said.
The "Let's B Safe" book and program was created by Brenda Zofrea in 2004 to help students learn what to do if they feel threatened. Zofrea is an intensive reading teacher at Horizons Academy. For about five years, she worked with the Manatee County School District to ensure every first grade student got a copy of the book and a stuffed bee.
The book capitalizes on rhyming to help children with their literacy skills and to learn what to do if an adult exhibits bad behavior toward the child.
A line from the book says:
Look for an officer
Dressed in black or blue
With a gun and a badge
He or she will surely help you.
The book also includes an activity page for students to complete, and Zofrea included 70 "sight words," which are common words in the English language that children and students should know.
But turnover in the district has limited the program, which now operates in just some of the district's schools, Zofrea said. For the past two years, the program has been dependent on organizations, donations from community sponsors and volunteers.
"That's how these students get the program now," Zofrea said.
In addition to the Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks Lodge, Wells Fargo, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Manasota Elks Lodge are also involved on a yearly basis to help reach more students. Ideally, Zofrea would like to see enough sponsors for every first-grader in Manatee County to have access to the program.
Zofrea has already seen a renewed interest from students.
In January, two students from Horizons Academy were given a civics-literacy award from Florida First Lady Ann Scott and the Florida Department of Education for their efforts to bring the program to first-grade students. The Horizons students were also recently honored by the Manatee County School Board. Emma Bittar, an eighth-grade student at Nolan Middle School, has also gotten involved, Zofrea said. She shadowed the Elks during a visit to Freedom Elementary School on Monday. Bittar hopes to complete her high school community service hours next year through the program.
For more on the program, visit letsbesafe.com.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.