When 24 kids head off to kindergarten in the this fall, they'll know a little more than most about how to get from home to the classroom safely.
That's because they're participants in Elk Grove Safety Town, a two-week program from the school district, the and the . It seeks to teach 5-year-olds how to be safe around cars, school buses, bicycles, water, poisons and other areas.
"Of all the crime prevention programs we do… there's really always been a gap for the really, really young ones," Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner said.
The program began Monday, and one of the first lessons the teen volunteers taught was how to look both ways and listen for cars before crossing the street. The gym at was transformed into a miniature city, complete with streets, crosswalks, traffic signs and buildings that barely stood taller than the 5-year-old participants.
Lehner said a similar program worked well and was wildly popular in Eugene, Ore., where he previously worked, and asked if it could be brought to Elk Grove. This is the program's second year.
School Police Sgt. Rich Lozano, a Cosumnes Community Services District Board Member, said the program is important because many students are driven to school, so kids have to know how to be safe around cars.
"This is a new thing for little ones," he said of kids learning to cross the street alone and walk among cars.
Kim Sanchez, the program's instructor and a substitute teacher at , agreed.
"The schools are so clogged in the morning," Sanchez said, adding that the program also teaches kids how to behave in a classroom setting.
Her salary for the program is paid for by the police department's Volunteers In Police Service (VIPS), which collects donations for checking on residents' homes when they're away on vacation. The Safety Town Program also has a $25 registration fee.