Alpine Elementary School, a K–6th grade school with 780 students, is part of Utah’s Alpine School District, the lowest funded school district in the nation. The primary barrier to walking to school had been traffic congestion, but that changed in 2008 when a man attempted to abduct a 6th-grade student on her way to school. The student successfully escaped and told an adult crossing guard what happened, but the fear from that incident created another hurdle to creating a Safe Routes to School program.
“Traffic has been the primary challenge of the school,” says Principal David Stephenson. In the 1990s, the community experienced substantial growth: the population quadrupled, and the existing infrastructure wasn’t sufficient to handle that growth. Although 75 percent of the students live near enough to walk to school, only about 32 to 35 percent walked. Alpine Elementary is an old school, and the road narrows to 17 feet in some locations around the school. There are also some busy intersections. “People are always in a hurry.”
The attempted abduction made stranger danger a real concern for the otherwise safe community, which doesn’t normally receive a lot of outside traffic.
“The scare made it a lot more challenging,” says Jenn Payne, a parent volunteer.
In 2008–2009, the school was awarded $12,000 in SRTS non-infrastructure funds from the Utah DOT. The following year, the school was awarded $50,000 in SRTS infrastructure funds for solar traffic signs and a bike parking pad and another $9,500 for its non-infrastructure activities. The City has donated approximately $7,000 for improving the safe routes to school and planning with the SRTS committee.
The school incorporated three main objectives in its SRTS efforts: consistent and safe use of the state-mandated Student Neighborhood Access Program (SNAP); increased parental involvement and support, and community involvement and awareness.
The state of Utah requires each school to create a SNAP plan that identifies the safest routes for children to walk and bike to school. Before school began, members of the SR2S committee walked the routes highlighted on the map and noted safety issues that needed attention, which resulted in support and input from parents and a partnership with the Alpine City Council, city engineer and city planner. The City quickly addressed safety concerns on the SNAP map and added crosswalks and school zone signs and planned a walking trail for students to use that would separate them from a busy road and would lead them to the back entrance of the school. The City also painted narrower lines on a busy street to create an illusion that causes traffic to slow and allowed SR2S signs to be permanently installed along safe routes, and partnered with the school to apply for a second grant for infrastructure improvements.
The year began with an SR2S Kickoff Assembly during which Principal Stephenson outlined the program, its goals, and theme, “Bee Safe, Bee Fit, Bee Kind.” A skit starring actor Marvin Payne, the UTAH Bee’s Mascot and Lone Peak High School’s student council and mascot illustrated how to use the SNAP plan and proper safety rules.
An incentive for participation came from Candle Light, Alpine’s sister school in Kenya. For every 10 miles that a student walked/ biked, Alpine Elementary donated 40 cents from community donations toward purchasing lunches for students at Candle Light. Students and teachers were introduced to this school at
an assembly where three visitors from Kenya explained that the majority of Candle Light elementary aged children were orphaned and only received one meal a day. The 40 cents Alpine students donated was enough to purchase a weeks worth of lunches for one Candle Light student. The Alpine class with the most miles for the month received a lunch similar to what the Candle Light students were eating in Africa.
“That was their motivation,” Payne explains, and it was tied to character education. “Parents like that. They really like that the kids have a goal other than earning something for themselves.”
Families were encouraged to walk SNAP routes together through school-wide activities such as Dads and Doughnut and Moms and Muffins. These activities resulted in 80 percent parent and student participation and a greater awareness among families about how and why to use the SNAP plan.
Every other Wednesday during the fall and spring and the third Wednesday of the winter months was designated as a Walk to School Wednesday (W2SW). All students, including those who ride buses, the faculty, staff and volunteers were encouraged to walk on W2SW. Parent and PTA volunteers and student council members gave small incentives such as stickers, juice, water and praise to children who walked, biked and used proper safety etiquette. One of the most successful W2SW occurred when the mascot of a popular university walked with students: Of the 555 students who live within walking distance of the school, 528 walked, and only 9 cars arrived at school that morning. Many bus students also walked. Several bus students have made walking and biking to school a permanent habit.
The school’s community council was designated to organize Walking School Buses and Bike Trains, which have been successful, and parents created one bike train in an area served by the school bus. In a survey conducted by their SR2S committee, 98 percent of parents surveyed felt more confident of their child’s safety when that child participated in a walking school bus or bike train, and they were more likely to encourage their child to make walking or biking to school a daily habit.
At the end of the year, the school held a closing assembly honoring students, parents and teachers for their efforts and highlighting three students who had walked the most miles for the year. Parent, community, and faculty volunteers logged more than 480 hours for the SR2S program.
The Meals for Miles program involved 100 percent of the students in developing a healthy lifestyle, safety etiquette, and positive character traits. The school successfully continued a partnership with Utah’s Gold Medal Schools program, a state program that addresses overweight and obesity in elementary schools and promotes good nutrition and regular physical activity.
Meals for Miles reduced traffic congestion outside the school by an average of 59 motor vehicles, and the average number of students who walked/biked to school increased by 118 students. Students also benefited in the areas of health, global community, environmental impact and character development. A sixth grade student summed up how she felt about Meals for Miles by stating, “I like this because I feel good inside. You can get candy and toys at the store. They need meals more than I need stuff.”
The school established positive community relationships with the local high school and increased community awareness of SRTS through media coverage that the kickoff received. Of the 555 students who live within walking distance of the school, 451 walked or biked to school for the month of September, more than double the total before the program.
In total, students, faculty and staff walked 26,748 miles from September 2008 to March 2009. The school received Gold Metal Status from the Gold Medal Schools program for reaching physical activity goals and motivating students without the use of candy. Meals for Miles was chosen by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver/National Schools of Character Foundation to receive a national Promising Practice award. In a survey conducted at the school, 96 percent of students surveyed felt that involvement in the SR2S program increased their activity level, helped the environment and fostered the positive character traits of caring, responsibility and citizenship.
Principal David Stephenson