Pine River, Reed City students enrolled in STEP program

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Fifth graders at Pine River Area Elementary School in LeRoy and Trinity Lutheran School in Reed City will be better prepared when a weather emergency strikes.

Because they are in a combined classroom, fifth-and sixth-grade students at Trinity took the course after it was recommended by local Michigan State Police Trooper Joe Allen, who has children that attend the school. According to teacher Aaron Keup, Allen was an integral part of the program.

"He said it'd be a great thing for kids to learn how to understand preparation and planning," Keup said. "It also gets parents, family members and neighbors involved, can help save lives and makes things easier on emergency personnel.

"The kids learned how to create their own emergency kit and develop a plan for specific disasters and emergencies."

At Pine River, fifth-grade teacher Barbara Sicoli said the program allows the students to have positive interaction with Michigan State Police Trooper Kim Vetter, and its lessons attempt to fit into the common core standards.

"I guess the biggest reason why this seemed beneficial is because it's all about safety," Sicoli added. "Yes, it focuses more on natural disaster type situations, but so many of our kids are in homes where safety — in any way shape or form — isn't talked about or planned for. We've got a resource at our disposal that was recommended to us by a police officer we trust about a topic we know is important for our kids. It just makes sense to have our kids be a part of this."

STEP provides teachers with emergency preparedness materials at no cost to the school, including instructor guides, copies of student handouts and starter emergency supply kits for each student. The basic lesson includes one hour of instruction, but teachers have the option of expanding the lessons to include eight hours of material. At the end of STEP, children received a certificate of completion and their own STEP bag, which they used for their emergency kit.

"It's a good course," Keup added. "I've enjoyed it and I see the value in it. The kids have taken well to it and found it interesting because they've never thought about certain scenarios before."

This year, 92 schools statewide are enrolled in the STEP program. Last year, 88 schools participated.

The students, along with nearly 6,000 others around the state, enrolled in the School Student Tools for Emergency Planning program, known as STEP. The classroom curriculum, sponsored by the Michigan State Police/Emergency Management Homeland Security Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency, is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and enables teachers to prepare students for various emergencies, including tornadoes, flooding and storms.

“We are excited to have another record-breaking year for STEP program enrollment,” Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, deputy state director of emergency management and homeland security and commander of the MSP/EMHSD said in a press release. “Our fifth graders will be learning important and potentially life-saving lessons about emergency preparedness, and making their families and communities better prepared for emergencies and disasters.”

Schools still have an opportunity to register students in the preparedness program, but applications must be received by mail, email or fax no later than Friday, Feb. 6. For more information, go to