Red means stop and green means go

Wearing bright neon yellow and orange jackets and helmets, the children bicycle around the road in small groups or alone, stopping at the red light - even though no other vehicles are anywhere in view.

Wearing bright neon yellow and orange jackets and helmets, the children bicycle around the road in small groups or alone, stopping at the red light - even though no other vehicles are anywhere in view. These children are learning to ride safely at the Road Safety Center, near Rehov Herzog, where fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade children from schools throughout Jerusalem attend a yearly, four-hour session to learn how to ride a bicycle - safely. Located in Nayot, the two story building looks like a smaller model of the nearby busy thouroughfare, complete with full-size traffic lights, turning and acceleration lines and traffic signs - all in a compact model. The Road Safety Center is a municipal project, funded and maintained by the Road Safety Department of the municipality. Although Manhi (the Jerusalem Education Authority) does not compel schools to cooperate with the program, Adi Sayag, director of the Safety Center, says that she makes it her business to call every school in the city every year, to arrange a time and date for the school to attend. Most schools accept the offer, bringing the students with their teachers. Each group of children is presented with a well-planned program. When they first arrive, all of the children are given the opportunity to ride their bikes freely for an hour with no instructions other than to wear a specially-designed bicycle helmet. Then, after a break, one of the center's instructors takes the children to the "road." "We want to show them the big difference between riding according to the rules and without the rules," explains Adi Sayag, director of the Road Safety Center. "Each child has a test at the end of the day and if they do something wrong, they have to get off [the bicycle]." Sayag has been the center's director for nine years and says that she sees the difference the sessions make. "They learn so much by the end of the day... all the different rules. We teach them the importance of wearing a helmet and not to lose control," said Sayag. The students at the center earlier this week seem to be having a good time, laughing and enjoying themselves. Some of them, children between kindergarten and fifth grade, will even celebrate their birthday parties there. The center has three birthday parties a week and parents are requesting more. But according to Sayag, there are only two teachers to work with the children, and they can only come three times a week, so they can't meet the growing demand. "So many people want [to have their parties there] that I have to tell them to call a month in advance," said Sayag. For the younger children, the teachers show them the crossroads and the safe places to play. From third grade on, the children learn the entire set of rules. All the birthday children get to wear a special helmet adorned with flowers. "It's something different than a clown or magician," said Sayag. "They get to feel like an adult. The kid is the driver, responsible for what he's doing, so he feels good." Summer camps also visit the center. Four groups come in the morning, utilizing the center's two floors and staying for two hours each. At these sessions, two police officers also teach the children about road safety. Sayag also says parents who have brought their children to the camp have memories of coming to the center themselves. "They still remember it as adults… it was an important lesson so it probably did something [for them]," she notes. That "something" may be credited, at least in part, to the teachers. To qualify as a teacher at the center, a candidate must have training in education as well as extensive training in teaching road safety. Then they must attend regular monthly seminars. Finally, they must "apprentice" for a period of three or four months, working along side an experienced teacher before they are permitted to work alone. Eating her lunch, Tamar, a cute nine-year-old in pink pants and top, sums up what she's learned at the center today. "Now I'm a little girl but when I'm bigger and go to high school or university and ride my own bike, I'll know how to be safe," says Tamar. - A.G.