School children from across Wisconsin are likely familiar with the frigid temperatures this winter season - if for no other reason than the above-average amount of school cancellations and temperatures that will make even the tiniest of nostrils freeze together.
For thousands of Wisconsin's 5th-grade students, familiarity will soon turn to education with help from the Wisconsin National Guard, Wisconsin Emergency Management, volunteers from AT&T and other state and federal entities, who partnered to provide learning materials and supplies to nearly 150 schools across the state.
"The real key to this program are the emergency kits so every child gets a starter emergency kit." said Tod Pritchard, public information officer for WEM. "It really jumpstarts that conversation that's so desperately needed in homes all across the state - we all really need to think about 'What would we do if there's an emergency ... are we prepared?'"
For the fourth time in as many years, WEM and Ready Wisconsin hosted a packing event, recently, as part of the Student Tools for Emergency Planning program. A group of philanthropists, the AT&T Pioneers, helped to pack 8,000 of the emergency starter kits as a way to inform and equip children with tools to inspire family conversations about disaster preparedness.
Each kit includes a drawstring backpack with DVDs, flashlights, emergency blankets and first-aid kits. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also provided printed materials for both students and teachers to teach anywhere from one hour to a full day of disaster preparedness material.
Pritchard said the 5th-grade demographic represents a "sweet spot" in age and curiosity that resonates with the children.
"Those kids love this information. They get it, they understand it - it's not too scary for them," Pritchard said. "We've had a pretty severe winter. That's where this program really comes into focus - it really makes families and kids think about 'Am I really ready?'"
Overall the program is a collaborative effort with part of the funding coming from a grant from AT&T, Walgreens, the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation and FEMA.
The Wisconsin National Guard is a key player in the annual packing event as well. Maj. Paul Rickert, director of public affairs for the Wisconsin National Guard, said preparedness is the key to any emergency.
"The earlier we can get people interested in preparing for what may happen, the better they'll be able to handle it if it does happen," said Rickert. "One of our big missions is preparedness for emergencies within the state, so to help here and to help students understand the importance of being prepared for those same emergencies - that's perfect."
On behalf of Wisconsin Emergency Management and Ready Wisconsin, Pritchard gave praise to the Wisconsin National Guard, AT&T Pioneers and all the other entities that made the event possible.
"This would not happen without them. We are so grateful for their help because we just would not be able to do it without them," Pritchard said.