Chapel Hill, NC, is a town of partnerships and relationships; between the University of North Carolina and the Town Council, residents and college students and community groups and schools. One such relationship is between the local elementary schools, local government and Go! Chapel Hill Active Living by Design, a national program that helped to facilitate the spread and success of the Active Routes to School program in Chapel Hill.
The Active Routes to School program began in 2004 with the efforts of parents from Ephesus Elementary School. After seeking help from the Chapel Hill Town Council, several parents from Ephesus Elementary coordinated a parent-led neighborhood audit, in which volunteers trained by Chapel Hill town staff assessed safety within the neighborhood surrounding Ephesus Elementary during the week of Oct. 4, 2004. The parent group also conducted student and parent surveys at the school to assess student physical activity levels and modes of student transportation. With the assistance of Go! Chapel Hill Active Living by Design, the parents were able to express their concern to the Chapel Hill Town Council, which resulted in the installation of six crosswalks at key locations around Ephesus Elementary.
From there, the program began to take hold at the local elementary schools. Currently, six schools participate in Active Routes to School. The SRTS activities offered as part of Active Routes to School include Walking Wednesdays and an Activity Calendar. With the program, there are two levels of SRTS distinctions – the Active Schools program and the Active Routes to School program. Active schools are those schools that participate in some of the SRTS programs., and Active Routes to School for schools participating in all of the offered SRTS programming.
The Active Routes to School program has resulted in a number of successful programs and infrastructure improvements in Chapel Hill schools. Walking Wednesdays, implemented in 2005, still help to encourage students to walk to school each Wednesday. The Walking Wednesdays run from the beginning of the school year through October and again from March until the end of the school year. During one Walking Wednesday program, principals in Chapel Hill schools reported the number of children walking to school increased by almost 350 students. Active Routes to School also organizes and promotes International Walk to School day in all six participating schools.
Another documented success is the Activity Calendar program, which allows middle school students to track their daily physical activity on a classroom calendar. This program is a classroom challenge, and the classrooms with the most participants and the highest amount of physical activity win a prize. In 2006, Estes Hills Elementary reported a near 100 percent participation from every student in every grade. Since then, other schools have seen an increase in participation in the Activity Calendar.