MONS, Belgium - Student safety is paramount at NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe international school and on Nov. 9 a construction contractor, Wayss & Freytag Engineering AG, demonstrated the dangers of vehicles and trucks to more than 40 schoolchildren.

Belgian primary school students moved into temporary facilities in November to accommodate the construction of the future school campus. Each morning on their way to class, students cross the construction site entrance in front of their school, said Asad Mirza, a Wayss & Freytag project engineer and briefing organizer.

"For the 6- to 13-year-old children attending school in the temps, there may be new and unfamiliar dangers lurking," Mirza said. "So we asked SHAPE International School if it was OK to do a safety briefing and they thought it was a good chance to show the children they have to be careful."

The SHAPE community is in the midst of modernizing its international school campus. Modernization translates to the construction of four state-of-the-art schools -- American elementary, middle and high schools and an international school -- to replace current aging facilities dating to the 1960s. Today and for the foreseeable future, construction and education take place in close proximity at SHAPE.

Mirza, together with Evangelos Tsipras, a Wayss & Freytag mechanical engineer, set up the safety demonstration by marking off the blind spot or blind angle of a large, parked construction truck.

"Classes 6a and 6b were allowed to take on the role of truck driver, thanks in part to the subcontractor Peremans," Mirza said. "They climbed into the seat to see exactly what a driver sees, and more importantly, doesn't see in the blind angle.

"The children sitting in the driver's seat were surprised that their whole class could fit in the blind angle. They were quite impressed and will keep that in mind."

The idea of educating SHAPE students on vehicle awareness was borrowed, Mirza said. His service club in Germany conducts similar briefings for local elementary schools. The objective is to teach young kids to seek to be seen by drivers, look left and right when crossing the street -- even if there is no noise -- and pay attention at all roads and intersections.

Dennis Mayer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District project engineer overseeing SHAPE schools, applauded Wayss & Freytag for executing the voluntary safety briefing.

"The benefit is enhanced safety around the construction site," Mayer said. "As a dad, whatever we can do to improve the safety and security of kids makes me happy."

Teachers and educators were also thrilled with the demonstration. Jean-Francios Climino, a SHAPE International School teacher explained, role-playing is always more efficient and that is what our students were able to do -- be the truck driver.

"Children and even adults are now aware of what a driver sees," he said. "The behavior of the children changed immediately after the training."

The practical display of danger made more of an impression than a classroom course could have,
Mirza said.

"Kids have to beware because of their size and the size of the trucks," he said. "Even though they are in their own world, they are more a part of it now. They have experienced the truck driver's perspective."

The safety exercise's aim was to heighten student awareness around the school construction site. Vehicle blind spots, especially those of trucks, are much larger than the average adult or child realizes. The truck used in the demonstration had a 40-degree blind spot extending away from the vehicle, Mirza said.

"This should also increase awareness when they are not at school," Mayer said.

Children are frequently in the presence of trucks, SUVs and minivans at shopping centers, in neighborhoods and near parks. The Europe District is grateful to Wayss & Freytag for taking measures to decrease the likelihood of vehicle-related accidents in the community, Mayer said.

"Children are led by guidance; we have to teach them what is right," he added.