For 15 years, Duane Schallenberg has spent the first Friday of May teaching kids about safety at the Madison County Fairgrounds.
Considering he is a farmer in New Douglas, that often means making the date a priority over getting his field work done. But it’s a priority that has been a passion for him since becoming a coordinator for the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day, when he realized the area lacked the opportunity for kids to learn the types of lessons an Ag Safety Day could provide them.
Schallenberg is one of 400 coordinators in the program, which is conducted in the United States, Canada, and the U.S. Territories as well as Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. In his tenure, more than 2,700 students have participated in Highland, while the program boasts a total of 1,65 million children and adults impacted in the 24 years of its existence.
According to its website, Progressive Agriculture Safety Days have the mission to provide education, training and resources to make farm, ranch and rural life safer and healthier for children and their communities: a mission that fits well with Schallenberg’s passion to begin educating kids about agricultural safety.
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This year, 235 sixth-graders with the Highland Community Unit School District and St. Paul Catholic School participated in the annual Progressive Safety Day on Friday, May 4. The event is hosted locally by the Highland High School FFA Chapter, lead by Rene Barr, and organized by Schallenberg. Sixty volunteers were on hand to help the day run seamlessly.
This educational program provides training and resources for local communities to conduct one-day safety and health programs. Safety Days are designed to be age-appropriate, hands-on, fun, and safe for children.
Schallenberg noted that each event is unique, with demonstrations that are relevant to the area. For example, Highland students went through stations on first aid, lawnmower safety, gun safety, machinery safety, grain bin and power take-off safety, drug awareness, and fire extinguisher training. Students in other parts of the nation might learn about safety around irrigation ditches, and how to stay safe around bears or alligators.
In addition to the hands-on stations, students also had the opportunity to watch one of two demonstrations executed by local fire departments. Half of the students learned about the importance of observing slow-moving vehicle signs, seeing a car that was staged to have run into the back of a tractor pulling a plow. The car then became engulfed in flames and Highland-Pierron Fire Department arrived to extinguish the fire. The other half of the students watched a car extrication performed by Highland Fire Department, which included the landing of the HSHS Rescue Flight helicopter.
With the help of the FFA, volunteers, and sponsors who believe in the importance of spreading safety messages, Schallenberg hopes to be coordinating these events for many years to come. Sponsors include Bunge, Nutrien, Crop Production Services, Trans Canada, CHS, John Deere, and Farm Credit.