ARDMORE, Okla. — Seventeen fifth-graders stood behind a short concrete wall and belted out the alphabet song in an attempt to be heard over the rumble of a tractor.
Steven Smith, a Noble Research Institute wildlife and fisheries consultant, turned the engine off and opened the door. "You're supposed to be singing," he joked with the students. Turning to the other person in the cab, 11-year-old Elizandro Garcia, he asked, "What could we hear?"
"We could hear music and the tractor," Elizandro said with a grin, "but we couldn't hear y'all!"
His classmates laughed, but this demonstration was just one of many throughout their day that built upon a serious matter: safety.
Smith's lesson, which focused on helping students understand that tractor operators cannot always see or hear approaching people, was one of seven taught at the Noble Research Institute's 10th annual Ag Safety Day on April 28, 2016, at the Hardy Murphy Coliseum in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The event introduced more than 100 fifth-grade students to safety precautions to use on the farm and at home.
"Safety is a topic that can mean the difference between life and death," said James Rutledge, Noble Research Institute safety coordinator, who helped lead the event as part of the youth outreach program, Noble Academy. "It's important to educate children on how to be aware of potential hazards and what they can do to stay safe so that we help prevent injuries and promote safe practices."
Throughout the day, students from Marietta, Springer and Mannsville rotated among stations that featured safety topics relevant to farm and rural life.
Students donned protective gear during a relay race at a chemical safety lesson from David McSweeney, biosafety manager; learned about the proper clothing to wear and safety features to use when mowing the lawn from Robert Wells, Ph.D., livestock consultant; and gained a better understanding of how severe weather develops and what to do when it does from Jenn Scott, educational outreach assistant. OG&E was on hand to share electrical safety, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol taught the dangers associated with playing near bodies of water and how to help a drowning victim without risking their own lives.
At the end of the day, the students learned about ATV safety through an activity that began before they arrived. Each class had designed "helmets" to keep their eggs safe during a drop from the bucket ladder of an Ardmore Fire Department truck. When the eggs landed, "alive" or more often not, they learned the importance of wearing their own helmets.
"I've been bringing students to Ag Safety Day for about seven years now because it gives them the chance to learn from experts and become more aware of their surroundings," said Sara Gore, a Marietta Elementary School teacher. "Not every student lives on a farm, but a lot of them live in rural areas. Even if they live in town their whole lives, they will end up using some of what they learned today, like lawn mower and electricity safety."
The Noble Research Institute's Ag Safety Day is part of a larger network of safety events held in the United States and Canada through the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day program of the Progressive Agriculture Foundation.
"Today has been a lot of fun," Elizandro said. "I've been in a tractor before, but today I learned to stand beside it at a distance and not in front of it because the person driving won't be able to see or hear you and he might squish you. Learning this way has been a cool experience."