Right before spring break in late March, students at the three county-area elementary schools received a visit from a very special guest. Ollie Otter, Tennessee’s booster seat and seat belt safety mascot, visited the school to promote the use of booster seats. Ollie’s program also encourages students to wear their seat belts and to raise awareness about roadway construction site safety. Ollie’s slogan for the students is, “Under 4’9”- it’s Booster Time!” The 30-minute broadcast will air on MyDTC3-Channel 3, on Tues., May 18, 7 pm; Thurs., May 20, 1 pm; and Sat., May 22, 1 pm.
Ollie was joined by volunteers from the DCHS journalism staff to help increase booster seat and seat belt usage among Tennessee’s elementary school children. Presenting the program to second, third and fourth grade students at Northside Elementary, Smithville Elementary and DeKalb West schools were high school staff members: Elicia Cantrell, Marissa Garmer, Sabrina Griffin, Nick Hale and Lucas LaPrad (actors), Chelsea Holden, Brittany Malone, Raul Narvaez, Kelly Cubbins, Haley Snyder and Katie Stutts (press, photos and video). Donna Emmons, journalism teacher/adviser, helped coordinate the safety education events in the county elementary schools.
The program is sponsored by several organizations, including the Tennessee Transportation Development Foundation (TTDF) - a non-profit group established by the Tennessee Road Builders Association- and the TRBA Ladies Auxiliary. The statewide safety education program has made presentations in all 95 counties in Tennessee and is now crossing state borders.
“Our goal is to try to educate children through the Ollie Otter program about Tennessee’s child restraint law,” said Carol Coleman, chairperson of the TTDF. “Hopefully, children will encourage their caregivers, or whoever is driving them around, to make better safety decisions. Ollie needs help from everyone to make a difference to save children’s lives on our Tennessee highways. It is up to us all.”
DeKalb elementary school principals, Dr. Gayle Redmon, Northside, Dr. Bill Tanner, Smithville Elementary and Danny Parkerson, DeKalb West, agree. “I learned something new today,” Redmon said. “Almost all our students in second and third grade at Northside will need to ride in a booster seat to really be safe.”
The Ollie Otter program communicates that Tennessee state law requires the use of a booster seat until a child is 4-feet-9 inches tall or nine years old. An orange and white construction barrel, representing Ollie’s home, is on display to teach the children the importance of roadway safety near construction work zones. The children were told to ask their parents to “Please slow down!” when they see construction barrels or road builders on the roads.
With the help of the Tennessee Highway Patrol and local law enforcement, the children were also taught about “Belts to Bones”, and what parts of the body the seat belt should hit when properly buckled up- the collarbone, the sternum, and the hipbone. The fully costumed Ollie Otter character encourages children to wear their seat belts and educates them about Tennessee’s booster seat law. Volunteers from the crowd were also measured to show the students the height differences between those who need to be in a booster seat and those who don’t.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008, the use of seat belts in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 13,250 lives. The use of booster seats compared to the use of adult seat belts alone lowers the risk of injury to children in crashes by fifty-nine percent.
The Ollie Otter program is implemented by a network of statewide volunteers who work through the Tennessee Technological University BusinessMedia Center in Cookeville to coordinate the presentations. The unprecedented educational safety campaign was launched in December of 2006, and continues to grow daily.
“The program is growing strong and we are all very excited about its expansion. Moving into the other states, such as Mississippi, creates more opportunities for Ollie to spread his message about booster seat and seat belt safety. Statistics show that booster seat usage is improving, which is what our goal is,” said Julie Brewer, program coordinator with the TTU Business Media Center. “The familiarity of the program has grown so that children and the community recognize Ollie and his message when he goes to a school or community event.”
To prepare volunteers to conduct the in-school presentations and perform as the costumed Ollie Otter, an online training course has been developed by the TTU Business Media Center through the Tennessee Board of Regents Online Continuing Education program. ROCE hosts the user-friendly online course and certifies the completion of the class.
The Ollie Otter program uses educational materials, such as measuring posters, bookmarks, and an interactive Web site, to inform children and their caregivers nationwide about seat belt and booster seat safety.
To sign up as a volunteer, to schedule a visit from Ollie, or to learn more about Tennessee’s booster seat and seat belt safety campaign, visit www.seatbeltvolunteer.org.
(Top Photo: Under 4-foot 9, It’s Booster Time: Students at DeKalb West School line up to be measured to use either a booster seat or a seat belt by Ollie the Otter and DCHS journalism student volunteer Elicia Cantrell)
(Center Photo: Smithville Elementary students help Ollie lead the Ollie Cheer during the “Under 4-foot 9, It’s Booster Time” presentation by volunteers from the DCHS journalism staff)
(Bottom Photo: Northside students learn about car and road safety from Ollie the Otter and DCHS journalism student volunteers Marissa Garmer, Elicia Cantrell and Sabrina Griffin)