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Ross first-graders learn the importance of protecting their heads

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the McKnight Journal
Ross Elementary first-grader Cole Jesz, 7, becomes excited while waiting to sit in a Ross Township police cruiser during a bicycle-safety program at the school April 1, 2014.

Inspired by a teacher's head injury, first-graders at Ross Elementary have gotten serious about protecting their brains.

In fact, some of them chose to wear bike helmets most of the day April 1 while they participated in a series of learning activities planned by a teacher who still is dealing with the aftermath of a 2012 concussion.

Ross Elementary students brought in their helmets and spent time discussing bike safety, head injuries and how to properly fit bike helmets with their teachers and an officer from the Ross Township Police Department.

“Some of them even wanted to wear the helmets onto the bus,” first-grade teacher Abigail Linn said. “They were hilarious.”

But outside the colorful antics of youngsters, head safety is no joke for Linn, who suffered a brain injury in a car accident in May 2012.

“(My injury) was from a car accident, but my students obviously don't drive,” said Linn, 35, of Mars.

About 100 first-graders played brain games, measured each others' heads and learned about different symptoms of brain injuries, such as paralysis, impaired hearing, vision problems and taste loss. Students sampled unflavored gelatin to experience taste loss, wore vision-impairing goggles and tried on clothes using only one half of their body.

“They did a great job,” Linn said.

For Linn, some of the symptoms they discussed hit home. Since she suffered her injury, which occurred when her neck whipped in four directions in three seconds after her car was rear-ended outside of Kennywood amusement park in West Mifflin, she has experienced hearing loss and vision problems.

It took doctors six months to diagnose an injury to the soft tissue of Linn's neck, similar to an injury Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby suffered, as the culprit of her neurological problems.

“I want to make sure people understand the risks of injuries like this,” said Linn, noting that parents should keep an eye on children who have hit their heads, because it's harder for youngsters to recognize and explain their symptoms.

“We learned about if we don't put a helmet on, our brain can get hurt,” said first-grader Katelyn Nestor, 7, of Ross.

She said she owns a pink helmet with hearts on it that she wears “all the time” when she rides her bike.

Ross police Detective Brian Kohlhepp said the focus of Ross bike officers is not just on law enforcement but also on bike safety and education.

The department will have a public bike rodeo May 10 at Ross Elementary, where officers will fit helmets and talk about bike safety. More details on that event will be available later.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or kshea@tribweb.com.

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