SIOUX CITY -- Emma Webb received a pet betta as a birthday gift. The turquoise, purple and red fish that lives in a square tank is Emma's favorite and only fish.
The Leeds Elementary School fourth-grader learned Tuesday that if the fish, which she named Buttercup, isn't right next to her and easily accessible in the event of a house fire, she should focus on getting herself out of harm's way by escaping through a door or window. North High School junior Mackenzie Flynn told Emma and her classmates they should aim to get out of their homes in under two minutes.
"Don't go back for a pet if you're out of the house. Let the firefighters grab it," Flynn said. "Animals are lower to the ground. They're probably safer than you."
Emma surmised of Buttercup, "She's probably going to breathe a little smoke. I would just let her sit there until the firefighters come for her."
Flynn, Tianna Mayo, Kaley Hein and Sam Wodtke, all high school students enrolled in the Sioux City Community School District's Career Academy health science pathway, presented The Pillowcase Project to the students Tuesday.
The Pillowcase Project, which was developed by the American Red Cross in 2013, teaches elementary school students emergency preparedness and coping skills. The program was inspired by Louisiana college students who carried their most valued belongings in a pillowcase after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Forty-two high school students are teaching the program at eight Sioux City elementary schools -- Spalding, Irving, Leeds, Perry Creek, Riverside, Liberty, Unity and Sunnyside.
"It's a great opportunity for our high school kids to interact with elementary students in this district and teach them emergency preparedness in what we would consider a health education course," Career Academy instructor Malina Ard said.
The district's growing Career Academy allows students to take specialty courses in 30 so-called pathways, covering business and marketing, family and consumer science, health science, and industrial technology. According to the district, more than 1,700 students were enrolled in Career Academy courses for the 2017-2018 school year.
During the portion of the 45-minute program that focused on tornado safety, students were selected to jump like pogo sticks and whirl like tops, before delving into coping skills, Mayo's favorite part of The Pillowcase Project.
"Think of a favorite color and take a deep breath in," the East High School junior instructed. "Now, think of colors you don't like and take a big deep breath out."
The students received a workbook and a white pillowcase printed with Disney characters and words, such as, water, flashlight, toy, batteries, portable radio and soap. Mayo asked, "Is there any specific item you would put in the pillowcase?"
A boy yelled out, "My Xbox." Other items students said they would put in the pillowcases included clothing, a first aid kit, games, a tablet and a cell phone.
"The students are very engaged and excited," Hein, a North High School junior, said after the program. "They like to get involved."