El Paso, Texas: Walking to school yields extra benefits

Introduction

Rosa Guerrero Elementary is a Title 1 neighborhood school, and 75 percent of the 850 students live within walking distance of the school. Sidewalks lead to the school, and approximately 30 percent of the students have permission from their parents to walk to school. The majority of Guerrero Elementary School’s student population is Hispanic, which means that 90 percent of the students are at risk for obesity, according to PTA SRTS Coordinator Lorraine Maiella.

One of the biggest barriers for students walking to Guerrero Elementary is the traffic at a busy intersection, Maiella notes.

Activities

The City of El Paso was awarded $10,000 in SRTS funds to develop a SRTS Plan and Program for Rosa Guerrero Elementary in 2007, according to Carol Campa, Safe Routes to School Program Coordinator for Texas Department of Transportation. The City selected a consultant and paid a service fee of $8,000 to assist in the development of Rosa Guerrero Elementary School’s SRTS Plan. The remaining $2,000 was used for promotional and educational items to promote the SRTS Program at the school. With the funding, PTA volunteers developed an education and encouragement program for students, teachers and parents.

SRTS coordinators increased school and community support and gained volunteers by offering education and training by the El Paso Police Department The school also held two raffles, and offered other incentives to reward volunteers for their hard work.

The school added traffic enforcement signage that identified “Drop Off Zone,“ “Pick Up Zone,” and “Students Crossing, Please Slow Down” as well as safety school stop signs for crossing guards, which made drivers aware of students and parents walking to school. Raising driver awareness led community members to feel safer walking to school.

The school provided incentives for parents and students who participated in the program. For example, each time a student walked to school, he or she received SRTS pencils and stickers. Teachers tracked students’ progress by logging data into pamphlets purchased with federal funding. Students were rewarded with SRTS water bottles, and parents were also able to participate and were given SRTS walking logs as well as water bottles. At the end of the SRTS programs, the school held a drawing for a bicycle, and all the students who participated in SRTS activities were entered in the drawing.

Milestones

It is much safer to walk and bicycle to school since the SRTS program began, Maiella says. Teachers have noted that on the days that students walked or biked to school, test scores and student behavior improved. Walking to school helped students gain confidence in themselves, which has contributed to them improving their test scores and grades. In fact, the year the school began its Safe Routes to School program, the school was recognized as “Exemplary” for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests.

In addition, the increase in parents walking with their children to school created many friendships among parents and teachers, Maiella continues. Parents became aware of healthier lifestyles and implemented walking as part of their lives, a healthy choice that reduces risks of obesity. The school’s volunteer participation increased due to the SRTS program, and traffic congestion decreased because more parents walked with their children to school. Parents have reported that the parent-child relationship has improved because parents could communicate with their children as they walked to school.

Contact

Lorraine Maiella
PTA SRTS Coordinator
lfm67@sbcglobal.net