Partnerships throughout the community enabled McCook Elementary School to develop a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program that led to a 15 percent increase in students who walk or bicycle to school. Cooperation also provided students with a comprehensive message of nutrition, health and exercise that can be sustained over time.
McCook Elementary has approximately 400 students in pre-Kindergarten to 6th grade. Before the SRTS program began, 10 percent of those students walked or bicycled to school; 15 percent rode the bus to and from school, and the remaining 75 percent were driven to and from school. Approximately 70 percent of the students live within a 2-mile radius of McCook Elementary, a neighborhood school surrounded by sidewalks. On the National Center for SRTS Parent Survey, parents indicated that they worried about the amount of traffic at the school, followed by traffic speed and safety at intersections.
In May 2007, McCook Elementary received a non-infrastructure grant of $8,761. McCook began its program by partnering with the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department to develop educational materials for students and parents that addressed nutrition and healthy eating habits as well as the opportunities that SRTS provides in meeting those objectives. The local police department also partnered with the school to develop a SRTS map, improve traffic patterns and add crossing guards to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Officers monitored traffic speed, illegal turns and parking and security near the school.
The Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) organized walking school buses for Walk to School Day, and that effort resulted in a dramatic increase of students who walked to school the rest of the year.
Physical education teachers include a nutrition component in class, and students learn how walking and bicycling to school provides them with exercise they need to be healthy. Teachers helped track student arrival and departure methods, and they reported that students who walked or bicycled to school had “a better start to their school day and are more on task,” according to Principal Lynda Baumbach.
“Bringing PE teachers on board was easy,” she said. “We made them a part of our team. They are instrumental in making this program a success.”
The McCook program has worked hard to engage students by giving away pedometers to all students in third through eighth grades. With teacher and parent oversight, students used the pedometers to track their steps throughout the month of March, with a prize going to the student who logged the most steps. Students set goals and tracked their steps across a map of the United States. On March 26, 2008, the students at McCook Elementary participated in their first Walk to School Day. To promote the event, the local radio show interviewed Baumbach and the police chief about the program and aired segments of the interview for the week leading up to Walk to School Day. The event itself received coverage from the local newspaper on the benefits of walking to stay physically fit.
“We had many parents walk their children to school and many who organized walking school buses,” said Baumbach. “It was great!”
McCook Elementary students also participated in Nebraska’s first spring Walk to School Day on April 23, 2008. Due to the many community members who contributed staff time and volunteer hours for the SRTS program, the school came in under budget by $3,659.26. Parent volunteers continue to organize walking school buses, and teachers have incorporated information about nutrition and physical activity for healthy lifestyles into their physical education classes. The school plans to continue with Walk to School Day events.
“This program just goes to show all the positive things that come out of even a small amount of money,” Morgan said, and she credited the hard work and partnership of the schools, city, parents and students for the program’s success. “They accomplished a lot with a little.”
Safe Routes Nebraska Program Coordinator