Rockhill, South Carolina: Engaging older students helps increase the number of children walking to school

Introduction

Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School is unique within the Rock Hill School District as the only elementary school to include sixth grade. When the principal and SRTS Team assembled in 2012 to discuss how to increase the number of students walking to school, they went straight to the source by engaging the sixth grade students.

Activities

The first SRTS activity at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School was a walk audit of the school grounds and surrounding area that involved key members of the SRTS Team and a few sixth grade students. The Upstate SRTS School Outreach Coordinator (SOC), the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and Eat Smart, Move More York County, a county-wide coalition for improving community health, assisted the school in coordinating and carrying out the walk audit. The South Carolina Department of Transportation’s (SCDOT) School Operations Coordinator and representatives from both the Rock Hill Police Department and the York County Sherriff’s Department also attended the walk audit. Just before the audit started, students were trained on how to spot challenges and deficiencies in the walking and biking network. During the walk audit, the SRTS Team and stakeholders toured the potential walking and biking routes around the school.  Students were empowered to identify barriers to walking and bicycling and to become agents of change in their community.  Students participated as note-takers and photographers, pointing out issues and asking questions when they were unsure of their observations. The Upstate SOC used their input to create a final report, which the SRTS Team can use as a reference when requesting sidewalk and crosswalk improvements, among other projects.

The success of the walk audit inspired the local SRTS Team and the sixth graders to learn more about pedestrian safety instruction.  School administration and SRTS Champions saw this as another opportunity to empower the older students. The school adopted the Child Pedestrian Safety Curriculum developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  Sixth graders studied the lessons for students in kindergarten and first grade about Crossing Streets Safely, and then led classroom instruction sessions for the kindergarten students.

Since the launch in 2012, sixth grade classes continue to provide crossing safety lessons to the younger students. The sixth graders revel in the opportunity to teach skill sets to kindergartners, while the younger students are excited about being taught by the ‘big kids’ they admire.  Teachers have been supportive of the idea, because they understand that before they can teach the curriculum to younger students, the sixth grade students need to show their own command of the material, in this case, safe pedestrian crossing skills.

In 2013, the Ebenezer Avenue SRTS Team noted that the bicycle routes were in relatively good shape.  However, the bike racks on campus were rarely more than half full.

Understanding that safety education plays an important role in promoting walking, the SRTS Team again involved the sixth grade class to develop a bicycle safety curriculum. They reached out to key stakeholders to develop a bicycle safety curriculum:  Eat Smart, Move More York County funded the curriculum development, while a professor at Winthrop University wrote and vetted the classroom content. The ultimate intention was to create lessons on bicycle safety and skills that could be taught in all fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes across the county and not just at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School.

The curriculum was completed within months, and the school began to implement the lessons into P.E. classes the same school year.  Ebenezer Avenue Elementary borrowed bikes from the City of Rock Hill Parks and Recreation Department, and Safe Kids York County provided helmets and fitted them for the sixth grade students. The curriculum was piloted twice: once with the sixth grade students during the spring of 2013, and again in the fall of 2013 with the new incoming sixth grade class. Pre- and post-test scores of both pilot programs showed that students were successfully learning bicycle safety skills.  Recognizing that a stable, fully accessible bike fleet would be needed to teach the curriculum at school, Ebenezer’s SRTS champion worked to secure a donation of bicycles that could be kept at the school full-time.  The school held a pep rally in December 2013 to unveil the new fleet and kickoff the expanded P.E. curriculum. Both classes that participated in the pilot raved about the new bicycle curriculum. A major highlight for the students was the culminating end-of-unit, off-site field trip, which had the students form a bicycle train and bike on the road to Winthrop University.

The bicycle curriculum lessons have been adopted by the school within the P.E. curriculum, so more sixth grade students will receive instruction in the fall of the 2014-2015 school year. The school is looking to expand the curriculum to reach other grades in the future.

Summary

Teachers and other SRTS Team members report that more students are choosing to walk to school.  Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School has had a long tradition of participating in walk and roll events including International Walk to School Day, South Carolina Walk to School Day, and National Bike to School Day. Participation in these events has been steadily increasing, and the enthusiasm is spreading to other area schools. Slowly but surely, the number of students walking to school continues to increase. School administrators at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School have been very happy with the SRTS program and are working to identify more opportunities to combine Safe Routes to School efforts with sixth grade leadership projects.