Lincoln Elementary School is in Mount Vernon, Wash., a small city in a rural county. Many of the roads surrounding the school are suitable for walking, but until the introduction of a Healthy School pilot program in 2006, not many students were encouraged to walk to school.
In 1995, the Auburn School District linked concerns about the high cost of transportation and increased childhood obesity to create cooperation that has led to 20 percent of its district’s students walking to school.
“The key to our program is the partnership,” said Jim Denton, Director of Transportation for the Auburn School District in Auburn, WA, for 12 years.
Safe Routes to School coordinators at State Street School listened to parents while developing a program anchored by walking school buses that address worries about safety of children walking and bicycling to school.
Results from the locally administered parent survey showed that parents’ biggest barrier was fear of stranger danger and traffic speed, according to physical education teacher Donna Ewald, who spearheaded the SRTS effort. Creating walking school buses provided adult supervision for students walking to school.
The community of Montpelier, VT, is promoting a different “Way To Go,” through an assortment of incentives and partnerships designed to help the program sustain itself in the future.
“Awareness is growing,” said Bill Merrylees, Wellness Coordinator for Community Connections, a non-profit after-school program that serves nine schools in two districts.
Since 2006, the number of walking school buses at Green Street School in Brattleboro, Vermont, has more than tripled, thanks to parents’ steady support of Safe Routes to School.
“The biggest barrier we faced and still face is the culture of driving kids to school,” said Alice Charkes, SRTS coordinator for Green Street School and a high school French teacher. “Most folks think it’s faster to drive to school and more convenient.” She believes that is primarily a perception rather than a reality.
Three years ago Principal Edgar Miranda moved from Rochester, NY to Arlington, VA, and he rented a home in the neighborhood near Ashlawn Elementary School where he would work.
It wasn’t long before a first-grader asked him, “ ‘Can you walk with us to school?’ ” Miranda recalled. “How can you say no?”
He joined students in his neighborhood, and they walked to school together — unofficially.
Alexandria, VA, is a compact city with more than 128,000 residents living in a 15 square mile area. Many of the city’s 13 elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school have been encouraging walking and bicycling to school and working to increase safety around the schools for several years before the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program began in 2006.