Delaware’s Safe Routes to School Program began in May 2004 after a SRTS Program was formally established through a bill that included starting pilot programs in schools throughout the state. Each school received a $15,000 grant and consultant support to guide the schools through the creation of SRTS plans. Downes faced several major issues related to congestion during pick-up and drop-off times, access problems from surrounding neighborhoods, safety problems at street crossings and lack of awareness regarding motorist, pedestrian and bicycle safety. The school now has a strong SRTS committee and a tradition of participating in International Walk to School Day. The new SRTS programs initiated at Downes Elementary were used to start up a strong program, and many aspects might be ineligible for federal SRTS funding.
For the pilot program, Downes Elementary used its SRTS grant funds for encouragement activities, including Frequent Walker/Biker Punch cards, a walking at recess program and International Walk to School Day. The Frequent Walker/Biker Punch card program motivates students to walk or bicycle to school regularly by rewarding them with prizes that start off small, such as stickers or pencils, and continue to grow until reaching the top prize of a bicycle or a helmet.
The school recently purchased 32 bicycles and 60 helmets for a few yearly raffle drawings to occur over the next several years. Students with more Frequent Walker/Biker card punches have a higher chance of winning a bicycle or a helmet. These progressively larger prizes keep the children who participate in the program every year excited about the potential prizes for frequently bicycling and walking. The walking during recess program allows the school bus riders also to participate in physical activity. As part of this program, the students pick a far away destination to which they want to “walk.” In 2007 that destination was Iraq; the students walked or ran around the track and accumulated enough miles to make it to Iraq and travel around to various places in the country. The students also wrote letters to soldiers stationed there.
A pedestrian safety expert was hired to teach all the students important safety practices. These practices are reinforced by the physical education teacher who teaches pedestrian safety to the children on a regular basis.
The SRTS committee coordinated with local law enforcement officers to enforce traffic laws near the school, particularly during the first weeks of school. Staff members are outside every day to enforce the school rules, and the school buses were separated from cars during arrival and dismissal by designating one parking lot specifically for buses.
After completing the pilot program, the following suggestions were made by the SRTS committee at Downes Elementary.
About 500 students participated in International Walk to School Day in 2006. Changes in the pick-up and drop-off patterns have reduced conflicts between students and buses. The school staff and administrators report an increase in students walking and bicycling to school and in parents walking and riding to meet their children. To accommodate the increased number of bicycles, the school has purchased two new bicycle racks.
Physical Education Teacher
Phone: (302) 454-2133