Local PTA Spotlight: Winnetka PTA in Dallas Educates Families about Fire Safety

By Katie Bayerl
Students at Winneteka Elementary School
Students at Winnetka Elementary School Participate in fire safety event.

Winnetka Elementary School in Dallas was one of three schools to kick off a new fire safety effort with National PTA and Kidde this fall. After learning about the disproportionate effects of fires on children and communities of color like their own, Winnetka PTA went above and beyond to design an event that would meet the needs of their school’s predominantly Hispanic community.

“We saw it as a way to give back to the community,” Winnetka Elementary School Principal Sura Perez says. “We had an opportunity to talk about the research, the statistics, and how to create a fire safety plan in a fun and engaging way…. and then bring actual items [including a ready-to-install Kidde smoke detector] to the families with training on how to use them effectively.”

Winnetka PTA organizers took care in designing an event that would make a potentially weighty subject approachable. They went all-in with their fire-themed décor, and every family was greeted at the door by bilingual PTA members and leaders from the Dallas community. Attendees could play games in the gym, enjoy a delicious meal of flautas, and participate in raffles to win gas, grocery and restaurant gift cards or books and musical instruments for kids.

Something that really stood out to our parents was the research on house fires, and specifically, how that connects to our community. You could see their eyes opening wide. They realized, you know, this can happen to me. And it’s better to be prepared.

Sura Perez, Winnetka Elementary School Principal

While these welcoming details helped get 236 attendees in the door, it was the information on fire safety that really got their attention. PTA Treasurer Martha Velez says, “The content was really good. I loved the presentation style… It really made us think and want to take action.”

Student holding smoke detector

Children were invited on stage for a game-show style quiz and were able to pose their own questions to a Winnetka parent who works as a firefighter. “The interaction from the kids and the parents was unexpected,” says Velez.

“I really walked away feeling great about how we came together as a community to talk about such an important topic like fire safety,” says Velez. “The PTA board and the school, we really worked on this together…. The representative from the fire department was like, ‘I’ve never seen a school have this many people this engaged! I hope you guys do this every year!’”

The Winnetka PTA also received positive feedback from their Texas House Representative who wants to partner on future opportunities and from the school district. Neighboring schools have since reached out, asking how the PTA organized such a successful family event.

Organizing a high-impact fire safety event: 5 lessons

In addition to echoing the four takeaways shared by colleagues in our previous article, Winnetka PTA had five lessons to share for future fire safety events.

Lesson 1: Spread the word…everywhere.

The Winnetka PTA team put big energy into marketing the event. In addition to creating bilingual posters and flyers, they enlisted Principal Perez, who promoted the event in her newsletter, the school’s social media and the school’s ClassDojo messaging system. Families could easily register via Eventbrite, and every message was bilingual.

Lesson 2: Keep the program concise.

While the content was excellent, families had far more questions than the organizers anticipated, and concurrent translation added time. If they did the event again, they would look for ways to condense the seated presentation to 20 minutes. They suggested introducing a couple of mini lessons to students as a lead up to the event and designing interactive stations or a scavenger hunt to deliver additional information in a more varied format.

Lesson 3: Organize meals to go.

There’s nothing like a great meal to bring people together, and the flautas (with pizza for kids) were a big hit. The grab-n-go set up was a bonus, making it easy to send extra meals home with families as an additional gesture of appreciation and a way to minimize waste.

Lesson 4: Feature local firefighters.

“The kids loved interacting with the fire truck and the firefighters,” says Velez. Next time, they will invite the firefighters to wear full regalia so kids can see what to expect in a real fire. “According to stats online, kids sometimes run away from firefighters in a burning home because they are scared of what they see,” says Principal Perez.

Lesson 5: Double check every detail.

Many little logistics add up to a smooth experience. The Winnetka PTA team urge colleagues to test mics right before the event and to have a live smoke alarm tested and ready to demonstrate. They also recommend making sure signage directs people exactly where to go and having extra pens at every table as some will inevitably drift away.

Is your PTA ready to educate families about fire safety?

National PTA’s fire safety educational effort has only just begun! Ten additional PTAs will host funded (pilot) events this spring as well as receive donated smoke detectors from Kidde, and even more PTA communities will have funding opportunities in the 24-25 school year. Stay tuned for details and check out the Cause for Alarm Fire Safety Toolkit in the meantime if your PTA wants to share fire safety information with families in your community.

This article is the second in a two-part series. Read part one.

Kidde is a Proud National PTA Sponsor. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service. No endorsement is implied.

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