The City of Garfield, NJ, is a dense urban community with 30,000 people living in an area slightly larger than two square miles. Both the high concentration of residents and the fact that the City of Garfield does not provide busing to its students can create significant traffic congestion around the schools. As a result, the community is dedicated to making the routes to school safer and to promoting walking to school as a way of life. The Garfield Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program targets two neighborhood schools, Woodrow Wilson #5 and Roosevelt #7. Even though the necessary infrastructure is in place for safe pedestrian activity, less than half of Garfield school students walked to school.
The City of Garfield’s interest in SRTS began in 2005 with officials’ concern about the rise in childhood obesity. This problem inspired Darleen Reveille of the Garfield Health Department to create a community task force on childhood obesity. The task force led to a wider community health initiative called Garfield F.U.N. (Fitness, Unity, and Nutrition), established by the Garfield Health Department and Ramapo College Nursing Program. F.U.N. builds programs designed to promote physical activity among children, with support from the Park and Recreation Department, the Garfield YMCA and the Garfield Boys & Girls Club.
In 2006, Active Living Resource Center (ALRC) selected Garfield as one of six school districts to participate in the City SRTS project. Under this program, a three-day workshop took place in Garfield, bringing together local stakeholders to identify issues in the community, inventory current assets, match those assets to problems and create commitment among workshop participants. A report was generated to capture both the recommendations of the program participants and the suggestions from ALRC staff. According to the report, Garfield presents a near textbook example of what can be accomplished by a dynamic local champion, who not only has connections to elected officials and city staff, but also is fortunate to work with professionals who believe childhood obesity is a serious problem worthy of preventative action.
In addition to the work conducted by ALRC, Garfield was one of 29 cities within New Jersey to receive $18,000 in 2007 federal SRTS funds through the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). Garfield used the SRTS grant money in conjunction with a $10,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to support F.U.N. Part of these grants was used to launch “Get Up and Go”, a series of curriculum-based SRTS activities that teachers could use to teach students how to walk and bicycle safely to school. The eight-part series ran as a newspaper insert in The Record and The Herald newspapers in fall 2007.
Content for the series was developed in partnership with the YMCA of Garfield, F.U.N. in Garfield, Bike New York, Partnership for Community Health, Inc., and NJDOT. The “Get Up and Go” series featured writing and math activities, as well as puzzles, factoids and Web resources designed to teach physical fitness, traffic safety, student security issues and bicycle and pedestrian safety. One special in the series was “Adventures in Walking to School,” a writing activity in which students used the newspaper to choose the places and people their characters saw while walking to school. Included in each series was the “Safety Zone”, a section where children learned safety tips, and the “Calculator Corner”, where students completed pedestrian- and bicycle-related math problems, such as how much time it takes to walk one mile and how to calculate their carbon footprint.
The “Get Up and Go” newspaper insert reached more than 30,000 students in North Jersey each day, and the series was awarded third place in the annual Newspaper Association of America Newspapers in Education Content Awards in the category of Special Projects.
SRTS, the Newspaper in Education Program and other Garfield F.U.N. projects have united educators, community leaders, health professionals, students and parents. By working together, each of these organizations has promoted safer and active means for children to commute to school. Support for walking to school is growing in Garfield as the SRTS program continues to expand. With $4,500 from the SRTS grant, Reveille hired a GIS project consultant to implement an interactive community asset and walkability map. The project requires the creation of online maps with photos and locations of important buildings, local businesses, crossing guards and other SRTS-related sites. After Reveille and her partners applied for and received a Healthy Community Development grant for $10,000 from the New Jersey Department of Health, they used $2,500 of those funds to expand and maintain the Web site.
One of the benefits of this program is the children’s involvement in the development of the maps. Children at the local YMCA before-school programs take and upload photos on their walk to school. Using cameras and a computer purchased through the SRTS grant, the YMCA staff oversees these activities. Before this activity began, children in the before-school programs were bused to school in the morning. When parents learned that their children would be walking to school under the new program, many expressed concern, which has since dissipated since the program’s inception. Through the interactive mapping projects, the children are having fun as they explore new technology, discover their communities and exercise on their way to and from school.