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Elementary students learn seatbelt safety, compete for best seatbelt design

MADAWASKA, Maine — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are joining forces with local safety officials to promote the use of seatbelts among children.

Jodie Theriault, a Customs and Border Protection officer and outreach coordinator, visited classrooms Tuesday morning at Madawaska Elementary School to make a presentation about the seatbelt safety program and design competition.

For the second year in a row, Theriault has incorporated the use of safety vehicle rides as an award for students with the best project. There is one winner per grade from kindergarten through third grade, and the winners get to ride to school in either a firetruck, ambulance, border patrol car, or police cruiser the day before the students go on Thanksgiving break.

“[The winners] are going to get to use the siren and the lights and have their photo taken,” Theriault said.

Each year is a different theme. Last year’s health and safety theme involved eating right and exercising. This year, Theriault decided to go with the seatbelt safety theme where the younger elementary students will color a strip of paper (the seatbelt). The best decorated seatbelt from each grade will be picked and the winning artist will ride in style.

“We’re doing seatbelt safety this year because we see a lot of kids that don’t follow seatbelt safety,” said Theriault.

Theriault added that it is important to show the students that wearing a seatbelt is the safest thing to do.

“So we make it into a fun game or a surprise where they get a reward for doing what’s right, then they’re more likely to do it,” she said.

After Theriault made her presentation to a first grade class, one student named Stephen Golay made an announcement to his peers.

“If you don’t wear a seatbelt, you could hit your head on something and crack your head open,” he said.

His advice was spot on, according to Madawaska Ambulance Service Paramedic Jessica Pelletier, who has a National Highway Traffic Safety Certificate for Car Seat Technicians through the Maine Bureau of Traffic Safety.

“Seatbelts, in combination with other vehicle safety features, can help minimize injuries and protect vehicle occupants in the event of a collision,” said Pelletier.

Theriault also stressed another purpose for visiting the school is to help develop a good relationship with children.

“I want to tell the parents that their kids are going to have good interaction with public service workers that are in their town to try to have a good rapport with them,” she said. “We just want to show them that we’re not scary people, but that we’re going to be friends with their kids so we can tell them good things instead of scaring them.”

While seatbelts are important, it also is significant to understand the best practices for child safety devices, such as car seats and booster seats, to provide the optimum amount of safety for all passengers, and specifically children, in any vehicle, according to Pelletier.

“Children up to eight or 12 years old, depending on their height, should be in booster seats,” Pelletier said. “However, most people are unaware, and choose to take their children out of booster seats by kindergarten.”

Parents can make an appointment to go to the Madawaska safety complex to speak with Paramedic Jessica Pelletier or police Lt. Jamie Pelletier about making sure their car seats and/or booster seats are installed properly.

“We make ourselves available at times that are of most convenience to the people needing appointments, including evenings and weekends,” Jessica Pelletier said.

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