This Tuesday saw a milestone for the Constable Care Safety Foundation that has been particularly close to my heart as a father: the official launch of our Safety School, the first experiential-skills road safety learning centre in the state.
You may already be aware of the alarming statistics of road trauma in WA: we have the highest per capita state road toll in the country, and road trauma is the leading cause of death for WA’s children. Preparing children with the skills to handle what could be around the corner isn’t just important, it’s potentially life-saving.
I remember both the anxiety and pride of watching my young daughter growing more independent, exploring the streets with her friends without an adult always being there to hold her hand, and taking the small healthy risks that come with maturity while avoiding the dangerous paths. She learned as she grew, and blossomed into a capable and sensible person as a result.
I also remember how it felt to come to terms with the idea that I wasn’t always going to be there to hold her hand, either walking across the road or in life, but knowing that I had done my best to prepare her for the journeys that she would take.
The work of the Constable Care Child Safety Foundation is to prepare young people for those journeys, to empower them to navigate the risks and sail their own ships with the guidance and support of trusted adults. As parents, teachers and other caring adults, we can’t always be there to protect children, but we can strive to prepare them with the skills to make the right decisions, and to protect themselves.
My organisation helps to reinforce these life skills, through programs that are both educational and engaging, which have been a beloved part of growing up in WA for generations. Times have changed so much since Constable Care’s 1989 debut, in terms not only of what risks today’s young people face, but what tools educators have in their toolkit to address those risks. We’ve moved to a more experiential, practical and skills-based approach, with Forum Theatre techniques that involve students as active participants in a two-way learning process.
Having seen the successes of experiential learning through our secondary school Theatrical Response Group programs, it was natural for the Foundation to explore how experiential learning could be applied to bring the road safety curriculum out of the classroom and onto (safe!) streets, so that hazards could be understood on a physical level, but without the real danger that would come on the roads for young pedestrians.
Fortunately, our office is located on the site of the old Maylands Primary School, part of which was a 4000sqm vacant lot that the Department of Education was happy to assign to the exciting initiative of a Safety School, teaching young West Australians how to keep safe in their travels.
With our long term tenure on the site green-lighted, and the Department of Education secured as a principal partner, we now approached the next stage of our journey: turning this empty space into a working model of WA’s roads. We have been very lucky to benefit from the support of many wonderful organisations and individuals including our other principal partners Lotterywest, Bayswater Bendigo Bank, Brookfield Rail, and Quadrant Energy, as well as our major project partners JAXON Construction, Downer Mouchel, Lightspeed Communications & Electrical, The Factory, DSBS, Transperth, Square Alpha, Western Power, and SDERA. The Safety School would not be possible without their support, and it has been a fantastic experience as a non-profit to benefit from the community spirit of such a variety of organisations working together to help us to turn the Safety School vision into a reality.
Curtin University has also been invaluable in this journey; students from the School of Business initially provided us with a feasibility study, and students from the School of Media worked with DSBS in order to create a particularly exciting component of the Safety School experience: TARA and SARA, the augmented-reality apps which “gamify” the road safety activities, making road safety into an unmissable edutainment experience!
When we first conceptualised the Safety School several years ago, augmented reality was yet to become a thing, not yet synonymous with catching Pikachu and his fellow Pokemon; however, the nascent potential of this trailblazing technology to create experiential education solutions that make learning fun was already leading to buzzing excitement in edutech circles. The public had seen some of what augmented reality technology was capable of through products such as Google Glass, and what would have certainly seemed the stuff of science fiction back when we launched in 1989 was already becoming increasingly available. With this in mind, our tech-savvy partners DSBS recognised what could happen if this technology was incorporated into the Safety School, and the rest is (futuristic, space-agey) history.
But incorporating augmented reality isn’t just great fun for our young Safety School visitors, it also opens up a whole new world of road safety education possibilities. Learning the rules of the road experientially in a realistic setting was already greatly beneficial, but what about seeing and dealing with “real” dangers in a safe environment via augmented-reality? This hazard-simulation overlay would have been impossible if we did not have such cutting-edge technology at our disposal.
Of course, practice isn’t effective without the theory to go with it, and the hands-on learning experience offered by the Safety School cannot be a substitute for the road safety education learned in the classroom. We give students the opportunity to put this knowledge into practice, and by doing so, we reinforce the key messages taught by teachers across the State as they tirelessly work towards keeping their students safe on the roads.
It was very important to us to ensure that we could maximise our impact during the time that we did have students in our care, and by partnering with SDERA (School Drug Education and Road Aware), we have had the opportunity to make sure that what we teach in the Safety School is directly linked to and reinforces SDERA’s research-based best-practice road safety education strategies. SDERA offers excellent road safety curriculum resources which many teachers already use in their classrooms, and we’re proud to have worked closely with them to shape the experience, including an in-school before and after component of the excursion which reinforces its key skill learnings.
By working together with passionate experts, organisations and community members, the Constable Care Child Safety Foundation has been able to create something which I believe will be of great value to the young people of Western Australia as they prepare to let go the hands of their trusted adults and walk safely towards the many exciting destinations of their journeys into adulthood. I am honoured to be part of an organisation that has helped generations of young West Australians on their travels in many different ways, and look forward to the Safety School being an invaluable part of this generation’s safer journeys in the future as well.