In September 2007, the Coconino County Health Department received $39,000 in Federal funding awarded through the Arizona Department of Transportation to jumpstart its Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. The program, titled “Walk. Bike. Get Fit,” began at Kinsey Elementary School, considered one of the most challenging to access by walking or bicycling.
Arizona has an open enrollment policy, allowing students to attend any school regardless of school boundary. Some students live 20 miles from the school. The city of Flagstaff, Ariz., in Coconino County, is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, so weather can add to the challenge when implementing a Safe Routes to School program.
Despite challenges, enormous community support has helped the SRTS program at Kinsey Elementary School thrive and also begin to extend to other schools in the area. Out of around 480 students at Kinsey, 120 are now walking or bicycling to school as opposed to the 30 students that walked or bicycled when the program first began in spring 2008.
Kim Austin, the SRTS coordinator at the Coconino County Health Department, thinks that if the program can encourage Kinsey Elementary School students to walk or bike to school, then it will be easy to encourage other, more easily accessible schools to implement the program as well. With the help of federal funding and numerous partnerships with organizations including Safe Kids Worldwide, Flagstaff Biking Organization and Northern Arizona University College of Health Promotion, the SRTS program at Kinsey has garnered much support from the surrounding community, in turn, helping its success.
The program enforces two important goals:
The SRTS program at Kinsey has an incentive program with prizes donated by the surrounding community.
Every month students in grades 3-6 receive a different colored punch card with punchable icons in the shape of either a shoe or a bike. Every time a student walks/bicycles to school, his/her card is punched. If students need to ride the bus either because they live too far away or bad weather will not permit them to walk or bike, they can walk four times around the playground and get credit. When the student’s punch card is filled, he or she then drops it into a box where it is entered into a monthly drawing.
All the donated prizes are related to physical activity and include passes for ice skating, snow skiing, bowling and a climbing gym. All prizes are donated by local businesses. The incentive program has helped to accomplish the program’s first goal of encouraging more students to walk or bicycle to school.
To help accomplish the second goal, educating the students on the benefits of alternative transportation, a SRTS curriculum was developed at Kinsey. The Coconino County Health Department conducts two 45-minute lessons in all classes in 3rd through 6th grades. Information that is taught ranges from pollution awareness to pedestrian and bicycle safety.
One important activity that is implemented in the curriculum is an “eco footprint” questionnaire that is given to the students. The questionnaire asks questions such as “Do you leave the water running when you brush your teeth?” and “Does your mom or dad use a plastic bag when packing your lunch?” Bonus questions are used in the upper grades; the lower the score, the better. The answers to the questions and ways to help the environment are discussed with the students.
Other activities like bicycle rodeos are implemented at six schools in Coconino County and target 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. A bicycle course is marked out with pedestrians and crosswalks. Students are allowed to go through two times using hand signals and road rules.
The rodeos are done in conjunction with the Flagstaff Bicycle Organization, one of the program’s supporting partners. In 2008, the top students in the 5th and 6th grade at Kinsey created a photojournalism project in partnership with Safe Kids Worldwide (SKWW). First, two lessons were completed that focused on pedestrian safety and photography. Then the students went on a walking field trip in which they took pictures of the “walking environment.” The students then wrote summaries of their top three pictures ranging in topic from how to improve Flagstaff ’s “walkability” to general pedestrian safety. These pictures were used as a part of SKWW’s International Walk to School Day 2008 on reminder postcards and banners announcing the event.
Another important partnership is with Northern Arizona University College of Health Promotion. A SRTS curriculum is currently being developed and is scheduled to begin fall 2009. College students enrolled in the curriculum create and implement a SRTS project focused on helping children become healthier. Teachers and employees from the Coconino County Health Department will evaluate each project.
In 2009, Coconino County Health Department received Federal SRTS funds for the period of 9/2009 to 3/2011. Federal funds, community support and leadership from the Coconino County Health Department are helping more children in Coconino County walk and bicycle to school safely.
Funding has allowed the program to hire a half-time coordinator to create and implement SRTS activities. Another milestone has been the tremendous amount of community support for the program.
“Last year the whole ROTC program helped out with International Walk to School Day,” said Heather Taylor, Injury Prevention Senior Coordinator at the Coconino County Health Department.
Her colleague, Kim Austin, is also starting to notice a change in attitude in teachers and administrators. She says that it was difficult making them realize how important healthy lifestyles are for children. “Many districts and schools across the country are cutting recess from the school day. They need to understand that in order to improve test scores, children need to exercise,” said Austin.
Coconino County Health Department
2625 N. King St.
Flagstaff, AZ 86004