SALINEVILLE - "Always buckle up, and remember every day counts for your child to be in school," Jacki DaLonzo says in her voicemail message at the Southern Local School District.
As truancy officer and injury prevention director for the school district, DaLonzo has two main goals: keeping kids safe, and keeping them in school. She is also a regional and state director for occupant protection, giving parents and family members and friends of small children and infants help in proper installation and use of child safety seats and seat belts.
At Southern Local, DaLonzo is working to redefine the role of truancy officer. "I'm spending the summer coming up with fun activities to encourage kids to come to school, and stay in school," she said. "I'm not the bad guy."
A car seat check event is a good way to offer free help to motorists using child safety seats. Jacki DaLonzo helps motorists with proper installation and use of safety seats through such events. Salem Kiwanis Club is one of the area organizations to sponsor a car seat check each year. (Photo by Nancy Tullis)
During the school year, DaLonzo checks on families when students are not in school for long periods, and works closely with teachers and staff of the district to be aware of situations that may cause children to miss school. She said sometimes there are complex problems that cause children to miss school for seemingly no good reason; other times, there's a simple fix.
She said one of the easier solutions was to help a few students who were having trouble getting up for school. She bought them alarm clocks, and their attendance improved significantly.
At the school, DaLonzo works on creative ways to reward students for making an effort to get to school. She is truancy officer for students in the seventh through 12th grades.
Recognition for good attendance, and for perfect attendance, has an impact on students' desire to work hard to not miss many days of school.
Each day the homerooms with perfect attendance receive recognition during morning announcements.
Each week the homerooms with perfect attendance during the entire week receive a reward the following Monday, such as having donuts that morning.
Each month DaLonzo awards a traveling trophy to the homeroom in each grade with the best monthly attendance.
Each nine-week grading period, the homeroom with most days of perfect attendance gets a reward, such as a pizza party or sub party.
Each student with perfect attendance during a nine-week grading period is eligible for a drawing to win a prize.
DaLonzo is also passionate about parents and other caregivers installing and using child safety seats, booster seats and seat belts properly. A wrongly installed seat, or a defective one, is just as dangerous as a child having no restraint at all, she said.
Many area organizations sponsor safety seat checks, where DaLonzo and others offer a free, drive-up inspection of seats and their installation. She and others certified in installation and use of child seats and other restraints will check manufacturer's instructions and check for recalls. In many cases, DaLonzo can offer a motorist a new seat at no charge if one is defective, inappropriate or found to be on a recall list. One of the area organizations to offer annual car seat checks is the Salem Kiwanis Club. At the Kiwanis event this spring, DaLonzo helped motorists with questions about age-appropriate equipment and common mistakes about installation.
In one case, she told a grandparent how to properly anchor the seat using the safety belts in the back seat of the car. She also offered alternatives to the slick cotton blanket the grandparent had placed under the seat in an effort to protect the leather interior of the car.
She said she understood they were trying to keep the car from being damaged, but the blanket compromised the proper working of the seat because it would cause the car seat to slide around.
DaLonzo said it is important for parents and other caregivers who transport children to keep current on the recommendations for use of child safety seats, booster seats and seat belts.
For example, last year the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendation and in a new policy published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics advised parents to keep their toddlers in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2 years, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. The Academy also advised that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age. Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.
For more information on the car seat check or child passenger safety, call DaLonzo at Southern Local School District at 330-679-2305, extension 205.