Helmets on and start your (tiny) engines: One of Long Islanders’ favorite field trip spots has reopened after getting a $110,000 upgrade.
NCPD Safety Town at Eisenhower Park — where grade-school students in miniature motorized cars and bicycles cruise around a re-creation of a Long Island town complete with streets, bike lanes, houses, stop signs and businesses — has been teaching children road safety since 1972. The revitalization was funded by a donation made by FirstNet, a wireless broadband network for first responders by AT&T, in connection with National Safety Month. It gives the scaled-down town a face-lift. But its nostalgia-packed appeal remains.
The renovations unveiled this month include removing or replacing 22 "dilapidated" buildings, among them blue, red and purple tiny homes, that riders cruise by, as well as upgrades to campus landscaping, according to the Nassau County Police Department.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder says the move to renovate Safety Town started after he made his first-ever visit to the facility seven months ago. He was immediately struck by the conditions, noting that the spot was “falling apart." “The crossing guards did an outstanding job of taking these kids through it every year, making the best of what they had,” Ryder says. Safety Town was shut down for three months for repairs.
A visit to the town has been a right of passage of sorts for Long Island elementary school students for 50 years.
“If you say field trip, Safety Town is the first thing that comes to mind. By far my favorite," says Laura Maddalena, 41, who went with her class at John Lewis Childs Elementary in Floral Park years ago. “They taught you the rules of the road and I remember getting a ‘big fat zero’ in one of them. I’ll never forget that,” she says with a laugh.
A school trip meant a 90-minute session where students were taught by NCPD crossing guards what it means to obey traffic signals, read street signs and cross roads and railroad tracks safely. “We tell them ‘Hey, if your mommy or daddy picks up the phone, you should tell them not to do that while driving,’” says Ryder, “and we tell them they need to stay focused when riding a bicycle, even on the sidewalk.”
A Facebook post by the NCPD unveiling photographs of the campus quickly garnered nearly 300 comments with Long Islanders sharing their memories.
Maddalena, a stay-at-home parent from Wantagh, says she cannot wait for her children, currently in kindergarten and first grade, to experience the trip for themselves. "My husband, who grew up in Suffolk County, never got to go so that was a plus for being a Nassau kid.” She adds, "Hopefully, 40 years from now, my kids look back and say 'I remember that, that was the best field trip we went on.' "
It’s been nearly 25 years since Matt Kleinman, 33, went to Safety Town with his third-grade class at Birch School in Merrick, yet he still remembers it fondly as one of his best field trips.
“I still have photos from it here in my house among the many photo albums,” says Kleinman, a senior deckhand with NYC Ferry who lives in Merrick. “With Safety Town, it’s the uniqueness of the experience. It’s not like going to a park or a museum, which is great still, but it’s very interactive, and that’s what stands out about it … experiential learning is learning by doing, and I think that’s the real difference.”
John Matassa, 55, a fourth-grade teacher at Old Bethpage Elementary School, says it is the "greatest field trip I ever went on as a student or teacher."
According to the NCPD, Safety Town services more than 10,000 third-graders from Nassau County schools each year.
Modeled after Eisenhower Parks’ Safety Town, there is also a Safety Town location open in the Town of Brookhaven’s Holtsville Ecological Site.
With Ian Stark
INFO NCPD Safety Town at Eisenhower Park is open to classes, camps, scouting troops and other groups; free. Safety Town, Eisenhower Park, Merrick and Stewart Avenues, East Meadow; call 516-573-3190 to apply.