Signs of learning
P.S. 4 fifth graders create pedestrian safety signs
by Daniel P. Bader
Outside of P.S. 4 there is a street sign like no other in the city.
It’s diamond-shaped, yellow with a red border. It says: “Be Aware” in English and Spanish.
Pictured on the sign is a crossing guard with a stop sign, a person in a wheelchair and another wearing headphones plugged into an iPod.
The sign was designed by fifth-grade students at P.S. 4 on Amsterdam Avenue and W. 160th Street as part of an educational pilot program with the New York City Department of Transportation, Department of Education and the Brooklyn-based non-profit Groundswell.
“This project made me think about how we can help our community,” said student Mikey Nunez at a chilly, rain-speckled ceremony marking the completion of the 14-week program. “It was incredible,” he added, to some chuckles from the adults.
One class from each borough was selected to participate in the program that taught students about pedestrian safety.
The 22 students observed how people cross the street, traffic situations and the role of crossing guards. One lesson simply required students to walk down the street pointing out signs.
“We worked on looking at the neighborhood,” said Groundswell artists Nicole Schulman. “You would think a lot of kids don’t look for signs,” said Michael Nesbit, the DOT safety instructor who worked alongside Schulman. “A lot of them pointed out where there were signs that Nicole and I didn’t see.”
By becoming aware of the signs around them and by observing their fellow students and neighbors, they realized the large number of distractions that pedestrians, especially children, are exposed to.
“It was very important for the youth themselves to diagnose the problem,” Schulman said.
Then the students worked to create collages to illustrate their concerns, a practice that Schulman said teaches how to reduce complex ideas into more easily understood symbols.
Then they went on a field trip – to the DOT’s sign shop in Maspeth, Queens.
“They got to see the process of how the signs were made,” Schulman said.
Back in the classroom the students settled on one version of their sign, and shipped the design off to the sign shop.
“My job was to reproduce exactly what they made,” said DOT sign painter Alex Soultanis. He and fellow shop superintendent Rodney Trujillo made the trip from Maspeth to see the sign unveiled at the school.
“This sign we wanted to have it very, very highly reflective for safety,” Soultanis said.
Teacher Tage Wright said the students not only learned about safety, but standing under the sign, they realize that they can have an effect on their environment.
“The biggest thing is they can do something positive in the neighborhood,” he said.
“That makes them feel like they’re part of the city.”
The Manhattan Times is the bilingual newspaper of Washington Heights and Inwood.