Prepare with Pedro: A fun way to build resilient and aware young students

Everyone in the family can have an active role in household safety. Prepare with Pedro and The Pillowcase Project – the two American Red Cross educational programs for kindergarten through 5th grade learners – help young students stay safe in case of an emergency.

Zeien Cheung, Red Cross Regional Preparedness Lead – Prepare with Pedro Program, posing next to
Pedro the Penguin.
Photo courtesy of Zeien Cheung

Fire experts agree that people may have as few as two minutes to safely escape a burning home before it’s too late. This short amount of time is frightening for adults and can be traumatic for children.
To help everyone in the household learn how to stay safe before, during, and after an emergency, the Red Cross has created The Pillowcase Project and Prepare with Pedro, two classroom-based programs designed to teach preparedness to students. Prepare with Pedro is designed for kindergartners through second graders, while The Pillowcase Project is geared toward third through fifth graders.

“These programs teach (students) how to act, help them understand what is happening around (them) during an emergency and give them some control over a stressful situation, even when there is not much control possible,” said Ana Romero, Regional Preparedness Manager for the Northern California Coastal Region of the red Cross.

Prepare with Pedro is a 30-to-45-minute storytelling-based presentation designed for students in kindergarten – second grade. Specially-trained Red Cross volunteers visit classrooms and introduce Pedro the Penguin to young students. Reading about Pedro’s adventures in storybooks and with the help of some training exercises, school kids can learn basic preparedness concepts like what a smoke alarm sounds like, what’s important to remember in case of a home fire, protecting themselves during an earthquake, practicing deep breathing to remain calm during an emergency, or how to talk with adults about their feelings after a stressful experience.

Romero explains that the focus of Prepare with Pedro is to build more resilient kids.

“Pedro helps children to develop stronger coping skills. They learn how to manage stress not only during emergencies, but also in their everyday life,” she said. “I was presenting the program in a local school recently when I asked the students if they think that these relaxation techniques, these coping skills, could be applied in some other challenging situations in everyday life, besides an emergency. One of them immediately raised his hand and replied, ‘when we get a vaccine shot!’ and yes, he was right. Those skills are useful in everyday life and the objective of Prepare with Pedro is to build resilient kids prepared to face any unexpected situation.”

Zeien Cheung is the Regional Preparedness Lead for the Prepare with Pedro program, and has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2018. She started her Red Cross journey as a member of the Disaster Cycle Services team helping with the response to the Napa wildfires, but then realized teaching preparedness was a better fit for her. Always passionate about teaching and working with young students, she has vast experience presenting these programs at schools in the Bay Area Chapter. “I believe in equipping young students with knowledge,” she said. “Make them aware of how important preparedness is and how useful learning these things can be.”

The most challenging aspect of presenting these programs, according to Cheung, is capturing the students’ attention. In her role, she oversees volunteers who present these programs at schools and emphasizes that being both a good narrator and able to engage with them are the keys to success.

“Prepare with Pedro is perhaps less involved than The Pillowcase Project, because the students are younger and the activities you can do with them in the classroom are different. But that doesn’t mean that can’t be fun and interactive. I have a Pedro the Penguin stuffed toy that comes with me every time I visit a classroom and the kids love it. It’s an excellent way to connect with them. They ask all kinds of questions about him – where does he live, how old he is, who are his friends – they talk with him and I talk with all of them, using those answers to complement the preparedness knowledge,” Cheung said.

After the presentation, students and their families can continue learning about emergency preparedness through the Prepare with Pedro storybooks, videos and other free resources available for digital download in English and Spanish. There is also a Pedro Fire Safety Challenge for Google Assistant and Alexa-enabled Devices.

“Storybooks and online resources make the children realize that they can have an active role in household safety. Grown-ups at home may not know or not remember how to stay safe during an emergency. We encourage young students to teach others what they learn after Pedro visits their classroom,” Cheung said.

The Red Cross has preparedness programs for all ages: Prepare with Pedro and The Pillowcase Project are for school-aged students and the Be Red Cross Ready presentation is geared toward teens and adults. You can learn more about how to stay safe during emergencies here, or you can sign up to volunteer with the Red Cross and be a preparedness presenter here.