PORTLAND --“Welcome to Traffic Town!” says a third-grader at Forest Park School in Northwest Portland as you walk through the door.
She’s referring to the school gym. Every spring the space is transformed into a miniature town. For 30 minutes of PE class, students negotiate plastic and paper roadways in kid-size cars they pedal or pull.
“The outside of the gym is the freeway and the inner part are the city streets,” explains teacher Joe Kurtz.
He’s been setting up Traffic Town at the school for 16 years.
Where are they going in their cars?
“They can go to Starbucks, the Pet Store, the Car Wash or to pick up a pretend pizza,” explained Kurtz.
He acts as mayor of Traffic Town and when police officers issue imaginary traffic tickets, Kurtz decides on the penalty.
“That will be five of your fake dollars,” he tells one student caught for speeding.
Some kids seem to get the message.
“You have to obey the rules of the road, but some of my friends like to bump into other cars so they can go to jail,” said third-grader Elliott Walker.
Joe Kurtz will hang up his whistle at the end of the school year, leaving the future of Traffic Town in question.
“I don’t want him to retire,” remarked little Elliott. “He is such a great teacher. He has a sense of humor.”
But Kurtz wants to give someone else a chance in the driver's seat.
“I tell the kids somebody else needs a turn,” said Kurtz.
He added that he would volunteer to help set up Traffic Town in the future. In that capacity, he might be convinced to stay on as mayor.
“I’ve been lucky,” he concluded, “really, really lucky . . .”