Student on pedal cart Students building bridges Students working together

The University of Minnesota Extension has a longstanding partnership with the White Earth Nation in north central Minnesota to operate a summer day-camp program for 40 reservation youth in grades 4–8. This unique program uses American Indian culture and heritage as a vehicle for studying math, science, and engineering.

In June 2016, more than 40 White Earth Nation students were introduced to a variety of transportation topics in a daylong RSI session.

“This is a unique program that has been a great way to meet RSI’s objectives of teaching safety and building tribal partnerships,” says Colleen O’Connor Toberman, program coordinator with  RSI.

This year's session included a variety of interactive activities designed to spark students' interest in transportation, engineering, and safety.

In a lesson on road sign design, students learned about sign retroreflectivity, shape, and color before creating their own road signs using the Ojibwe names for local places.

Students experienced the dangers of distraction by getting behind the wheel of pedal carts in a lesson co-taught by Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths program regional coordinator Tom Nixon. The lesson demonstrated how distractions and multitasking impair essential concentration while driving and walking. Nixon also engaged students in discussions about booster seats and seat belt use, sharing ideas to help students encourage their friends and relatives to buckle up.

“Just knowing how high the [roadway] death rate is in our reservation communities…anything we can incorporate into our curriculum to try and keep our young people safe is a very worthwhile part of the program,” says Deb Zak, regional director of the U of M Extension’s Northwest District.

Nixon hopes students will make safer driving choices in the future based on what they learned. “The great opportunity we had today was to talk to them before they become drivers,” he says. “We wanted them to learn about what their actions will lead to and the limitations of their abilities [when they’re distracted]. The more educated they are, the more aware they’ll be of what their choices will mean.”

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