Establishing a broad base of community partnerships has enabled the City of Garfield to begin a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program that can sustain itself. Although Garfield is comprised of less than 2.2 square miles, it has nine parks, a Boys and Girls Club, a YMCA and two walking paths. Despite such amenities, however, the high concentration of people combined with the lack of busing to schools contributed to significant traffic congestion around the schools.
The city’s interest in SRTS programs began in 2005 when local officials became concerned about increasing rates of childhood obesity, says Darleen Reveille of the Garfield Health Department. She created a community task force on childhood obesity, which led to a community initiative called Garfield FUN (Fitness, Unity and Nutrition) fostered by a partnership of the Garfield Health Department and Ramapo College’s nursing program. Its success continues thanks to additional partnerships with the Park and Recreation Department, the Garfield YMCA and the Garfield Boys and Girls Club, Partnership for Community Health, Bike New York and New Jersey DOT.
Such partnerships are vital to the program, Reveille says.
“You have to bring people together who recognize the benefits of the program,” she explains. “We reached out to everyone so we could compile the best information and put it together in a creative way to engage students, teachers and their families.”
In 2007, the City of Garfield Health Department was awarded $18,000 in federal non-infrastructure SRTS funds through the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The city combined those funds with a $10,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to support FUN. A portion of the funds was used to launch “Get Up and Go,” a series of curriculum-based SRTS activities teachers could use to teach students how to walk and bicycle safely to school.
The City of Garfield Health Department launched a Newspaper in Education (NIE) Program with “The Record” and “Herald News” to create newspaper inserts with student activities centered on safe bicycling and walking strategies. The inserts were published in both newspapers for an eight- week period during the school year and reached more than 30,000 students in the North Jersey area. The template for the insert each week included an “On the Move” activity that students completed at school, “The Safety Zone” which provided fun facts for staying safe, and a “Calculation Corner” that correlated safety messages with the math and science curriculum. As part of its mission, NIE donates newspapers to participating schools, so students were able to take the newspapers home to open a dialog with their parents.
NIE also organized and promoted a workshop for teachers to learn more about the Safe Routes to School program and in-paper curriculum. The newspapers devoted space to student responses related to this project.
Support for walking to school is growing in Garfield, and the SRTS, NIE and FUN projects have united educators, community leaders, health professionals, students and parents.
The NIE project was awarded third place in the annual Newspaper Association of America Newspapers in Education Content Awards in the Special Projects category.
In addition, the Health Department used $4,500 from its SRTS non-infrastructure grant to hire a GIS project consultant to implement an interactive community asset and walkability map. Garfield’s Streets Walkability Guide is designed for participants in the Garfield YMCA Before-School Program to help make the walk to school safer and easier. To create the maps, students in the Before-School program were given cameras to document their walks to school, and the information they captured was incorporated into interactive GIS maps that identify crosswalks, street signs, traffic lights and crossing guards, as well as barriers, hazards and street lighting, for example. Students learned first-hand about both SRTS issues and new technology.
Reveille encourages other communities who are pursuing their own projects to “Make a phone call, basically reach out; it never hurts to ask,” she says. “The whole key really is partnerships.”
Garfield Health Department
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