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Local professor creates ‘Snappy’ safety program

Mississippi’s elementary school students will soon have a newway to learn reading, writing and right from wrong, as the stateDepartment of Education studies the implementation of a learningprogram developed by one of Lincoln County’s own.

Dr. Jerry W. Robinson, professor emeritus at Delta StateUniversity and the University of Illinois who has a spot on Highway84 West he calls home, has created an interactive educationalprogram designed to teach elementary academics simultaneously withsafety education to students in grades K-3.

The program, entitled “Snappy, The Safety Turtle,” uses a40-page, full-color activity book accompanied by a CD that includes20 songs and poems and 30 educational games and activities. Each ofthe 12, 30-minute lessons is accompanied by narration and thevoices of fictional characters, and each lesson begins by stirringthe class up with music.

“Every lesson begins with singing and hand-clapping,” Robinsonsaid. “The songs get the children engaged. Children learn best whenthey’re having fun.”

With the help of Hinds County Sheriff Malcom McMillin as storynarrator and the voice of Miss Mississippi 2005 Kristin Dambrino asSnappy, the program uses its many songs and games to teach thebasics – the alphabet, reading and writing, math and social studies- while mixing in safety education.

“We’re accomplishing three or four things at once with thisprogram,” Robinson said. “The purpose of the program is to teachchildren about traffic safety, fire safety, the harms and hazardsof drugs and tobacco, healthy eating and a little about gunsafety.”

Robinson said he accomplished part of the program’s teachingmethods by writing new words to ageless rhymes in the publicdomain. For instance, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” has become “Drive,Drive, Drive your car, safely down the road.”

So far, Robinson’s program has been tested on more than 10,000Mississippi elementary students in 10 school districts and severalprivate schools. “Snappy, The Safety Turtle” was one of only foureducational programs that met all six of the department ofeducation’s criteria to qualify as “Approved for SupplementalResource Providers for Comprehensive Health and Physical Educationin Mississippi.”

The program also meets the guidelines of the “No Child LeftBehind” policy, and may be purchased by school districts for use inthe classroom for $4 per student.

Experience, the shortcomings of one of the nation’s most popularfictional characters, and a dose of heartbreak went into thecreation of “Snappy, The Safety Turtle,” Robinson said. The birthof the program began decades ago when he was a graduate student atMississippi State University.

“I did my thesis on man-caused forest fires,” Robinson said. “Idid work later with the University of Illinois as a consultant forthe forest service, looking at Smokey Bear. I found out that Smokeywasn’t very effective.”

Robinson’s desire to create a better safety character for youthwas reinforced when one of his friends was killed in a caraccident. The friend was not buckled up. He realized that not onlywas Smokey ineffective, but other safety promotion figures werealso not getting the job done.

“I thought, ‘I can do something better than Smokey,'” he said.”That’s why I created Snappy.”

Robinson said he has received ample amounts of positive feedbackfrom the parents of children in the school districts where theprogram has been tested – proof to him that Snappy is getting themessage across.

And the message is not only getting across to the elementarystudents, but to their older brothers and sisters and parents aswell.

“The students get a copy of the CD when the course is finished,”Robinson said. “They take it home and they listen to it in the car,and it eventually gets to the older kids and parents andgrandparents. I’ve had grandparents stop me and say, ‘I know yourprogram and my granddaughter won’t let me crank my car until Ibuckle up.'”

Robinson said he has aspirations for the program to gonationwide. In preparation, he has created two books to accompanythe program – one specifically for Mississippi and a generic copyfor the rest of the country.

There is little reason for “Snappy” not to go nationwide, as theprogram is only the most recent of Robinson’s educationalproductions. Since he first began advocating the use of learningmodules in 1967, Robinson has written more than 120 learningmodules and 15 books.

“Snappy, The Safety Turtle” was developed by Robinson with helpfrom the faculty, staff and students and Delta State University andproduced by his own WellWay Publishers of Brookhaven and Studio 61of Clarksdale.