Madeline Knowlton*, 11, and her brother, Samuel*, 12, live in Alaska, which ranks No. 1 among earthquakes in the United States. And even though the two young teens learned about earthquake safety in a babysitting training class, they never expected they’d need to use what they’d learned. On December 4, 2012, both teens took a Safe Sitter® class led by Instructor Sheila Juarez at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, a Safe Sitter® teaching site for 23 years.
Samuel and Madeline are homeschooled and attend Kenai Peninsula Connections for aptitude testing, a requirement for Alaska homeschool programs. One day last December, their mother, Marcia Knowlton, relied on Madeline and Samuel to watch their younger siblings while she spent time in the garage unpacking boxes from the family’s recent move to Soldotna from Seattle. Although the garage is attached, it’s inaccessible from the house. One must first go to an outside deck, then down two flights of stairs to reach the main garage door. Madeline cared for Katherine, 4, and Joel, 2, and Samuel tended to Jacob, 6, in the playroom, situated above the garage but not readily available to Marcia as she busied herself unpacking.
After Marcia had been in the garage for 45 minutes, she heard a boom. Thinking it was the children creating noise in the playroom above her, she yelled, “Stop stomping!” However, as everything around her began to shake (and the walls swayed in a direction opposite the ceiling!), she realized it was an earthquake. After several aftershocks, Marcia admits she’d been unsure of what she should do. “I kind of panicked because I couldn’t remember what to do—go outside or stay inside? Then I took off running to get the kids,” she said.
When Marcia arrived in the playroom, she saw that Madeline had joined Katherine and Joel under a sturdy coffee table. With a blanket over their heads, Madeline was speaking calmly and suggesting they pretend to be hiding. Samuel had gotten behind a couch in another room with Jacob and was holding him tightly, speaking calmly as well. Marcia asked if everyone was alright but said she immediately sensed that Samuel and Madeline seemed to have removed the fear factor from the event.
“I was shocked,” Marcia said. “Everyone was calm. Nobody was crying. I was the one who panicked. I had thought, ‘They’re probably scared to death!” Instead, Samuel said, “Yep, we’re fine.”
Amazed by her children’s composure, Marcia asked Samuel and Madeline how they’d known what to do. They both replied that Safe Sitter® had taught them. During the “Safety for the Sitter” portion of class, Madeline said, “I got the earthquake card and had acted it out. I remembered to get under the table and stay calm. I just started talking to my brother and sister.” In fact, immediately after the earthquake, measuring 5.8 on geological reports, Samuel even said, “Well, we didn’t think we would ever have to use that one!”
Marcia was so impressed by how Safe Sitter® provides practical life skills for children and impacts families that she became a Safe Sitter® Instructor. “This program is so much more than it appears!” she said, stressing how a family in Alaska can live 45 minutes away from emergency services so the skills learned in Safe Sitter® could prove extremely handy. Marcia is reaching out to the home school network and other local schools to encourage them to provide Safe Sitter®.
The earthquake didn’t provide Samuel and Madeline with their only opportunity to use their Safe Sitter® skills. Madeline is an active babysitter who averages 1 to 3 jobs each week. She always takes her Official Safe Sitter® Babysitter’s Handbook with her when she babysits. Samuel babysits but not as often as Madeline. However, he does watch his brothers and sisters frequently—and he’s proven he’s more than capable of that task!
*Permission to use full names and photo given by their parents.