Mini village teaches special needs students traffic safety

Crystal Bay Centre for Special Education opened a miniature village in its schoolyard to teach special needs students how to safely cross at stop signs and traffic lights.

Parents want children to understand road safety to encourage independence

A safety village with miniature houses is used to teach road and traffic safety to special needs students at Crystal Bay Centre for Special Education. (Jessa Runciman CBC)

A mock village to teach students with special needs how to safely navigate roads and traffic opened in the backyard of an Ottawa school last week.    

Safety Village at the Crystal Bay Centre for Special Education mirrors a similar village run by the Ottawa Safety Council in Britannia Park for more than 30 years before it closed in 2006. 

Both the original and the latest version of the village use miniature roads, vehicles, bicycles and traffic lights to illustrate road safety lessons. 

Parent Joanne Small-Greenall's two sons attend Crystal Bay Centre for Special Education Ottawa. (Jessa Runciman/CBC )

Joanne Small-Greenall, one of the parents behind the current project, has two sons, Jackson and Fern, who attend the Crystal Bay school. She said her children face huge challenges as both are visually impaired, have epilepsy, are non-verbal, and autistic.  

"The only thing that comes easy for Jackson and Fern is smiling and laughing," Small-Greenall said.

She said she can't walk with her two boys on a busy street because they don't understand the danger of not staying on the sidewalk to avoid getting hit by a car. 

Small-Greenall brought the idea of reviving the safety village to school officials. Since students stay at the Crystal Bay school until they are 21 years old, they will ave a lot of time to learn and for safety lessons to be reinforced.

"In order for these kids to learn they have to do it over and over and over and maybe after doing 100 times they'll learn it," said Small-Greenall.

Deb Lyon, principal of Crystal Bay Centre for Special Education, said teaching road safety will make students more independent. (Jessa Runciman )

The school will teach road safety using stop signs and crosswalk images in the classroom, and then use the village to learn how to cross safely at street signs and practice what a stop sign means.

"We wouldn't be able to take our students to a busy intersection with staff," said Crystal Bay Principal Deb Lyon. "They really need to do it for themselves and not just see it in the classroom and we really need this enclosed safe spot where we can feel comfortable teaching them those skills."

'It took a village to build a village'

The village cost $155,000 and was paid for partly with school money and money raised by parents.

Small-Greenall said one parent coined the phrase "it took a village to build a village."

She was overwhelmed by those who wanted to donate.

"The message that I get from our community, from Ottawa, is that they are telling students 'we know who you are and we value you and we appreciate you and we're going to help you.'"