1 of 2
Photo by Nathan Grimm
Alton Fire Chief Bernie Sebold talks it over with Jordyn Croft (left) and Christopher Simpson at Tuesday’s Pancakes with Partners event at Eunice Smith Elementary School.
2 of 2
Photo by Nathan Grimm
Eunice Smith Elementary School students Kennedy Ridgley (far left) and Payton Williams have breakfast with (from left) Alton Fire Department engineers Tom Muffler and Don Holliday and Capt. Dan Whiteside.
ALTON — When firefighters and police officers arrive on a scene, gathering information quickly and accurately is paramount. Asking the right questions, and receiving the right answers, could be the difference between life and death.
The stakes were decidedly less high Tuesday morning, when Alton and Godfrey first responders visited Eunice Smith Elementary School for the school’s inaugural Pancakes with Partners event. The community event invited police officers and firefighters, as well as parents and school volunteers, to have breakfast and interact with kindergarten and first-grade students at the school.
Unlike at the scene of a fire or burglary, conversation topics around the elementary school cafeteria took on a less serious tone.
“We talked about, ‘What’s your name, and what grade are you in?’” first-grader Lily Henkhaus, 6, said.
Godfrey Fire Chief Erik Kambarian said he was enlightened on the students’ favorite part of going to school.
“Recess is pretty popular, lunch is pretty popular,” Kambarian joked. “Reading is not.”
Natalie Gordon, the school’s Title I reading teacher and 21st Century Program coordinator, said the school has held different events in the past to involve parents, such as Muffins with Mom and Donuts with Dad, but since part of their curriculum teaches students about the roles of police and firefighters, the idea arose to include them in a similar meet-and-greet-type event.
“I think that it’s a good way to get the kids to get that positive relationship with firefighters, police officers, just community members that everybody is here for them,” Gordon said.
The event was mutually beneficial, Alton Fire Chief Bernie Sebold said, as it was also a way for students to get to know the men and women with whom they may one day come in contact outside the school.
“Any time that we as firefighters can sit down with the kids in a social setting, as opposed to standing up in front of them and giving them a fire safety presentation, it’s really fun. I sat there and talked to two kids about what they were wearing for Halloween and what their favorite subject is,” Sebold said. “Just in general, we want the little kids to be able to approach people and be comfortable approaching people in uniform, and this type of setting is perfect for getting them to want to approach.”
Sebold said Eunice Smith Elementary in particular is special to him because all three of his children attended the school. Alton firefighters also volunteer their time every Thursday for the school’s Reach Out and Read program, which allows students to read to volunteers prior to school starting.
“It’s fantastic,” Sebold said of the breakfast. “The faculty and staff here are just amazing people.”
The community event, which also took place Wednesday morning at the school, was paid for through federal Title I grant funds. Title I funding is provided to schools and districts with high numbers or percentages of children from low-income families to improve their educational experience. The Alton School District received $2,116,248 in Title I grant money in 2014, the most recent allocation information available through the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
In line with that initiative, Kambarian said the breakfast was also a chance to educate.
“It’s a perfect time of the year to do this because it’s Fire Prevention Week, so what better way to put out our fire safety message to the kids — make sure they know how to get out of the house, stay out of the house, have a safe meeting place, know their address,” Kambarian said. “Really basic concepts, but they could save a life.”
And the encounter seemed to resonate with students. Faylan Lamb, a 5-year-old kindergarten student at Eunice Smith, learned from sitting next to an Alton detective that the detective “does lots of things,” and Lily Henkhaus said she enjoyed sitting with the firefighters.
“They can save you from fire,” she said.