Students in Green Forest, AR, literally are leading the way to help the city identify improvements needed to make routes safer for children to walk to school.
Arkansas has three types of SRTS grants: educational, start-up and infrastructure, according to Rob Kerby, executive director of the Carroll County Resource Council. Green Forest chose to apply for an education grant and during that process was encouraged to apply for a start-up grant, too. First, they planned to promote safe walking for the children, Kerby said. After students participated in safe walking training, “We would use the kids to identify barriers that would keep them from walking to school,” he said.
The SRTS Committee in Green Forest is a subcommittee of Green Forest School’s Wellness Committee and includes the elementary principal, the school nurse, two physical education teachers, the city public works director, the chaplain of the Tyson plant, which is a major employer in the community, the executive director of the nonprofit Carroll County Resource Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Booster Club and the Lions Club.
The school received $24,000 for the combined two grants and used the funding to hire two part-time staff to coordinate six months of walking school buses and to purchase incentives for students who walked. They also have promised students who participate in the walking school buses that they will be able to sign their names in the new sidewalks once the school receives them.
Students from kindergarten to seventh grade received four weeks of pedestrian safety training in their physical education classes, Kerby said. The children took a pretest to record their attitudes toward walking and pedestrian safety before the lessons, and they were tested again after the class work was completed to determine if any change occurred.
Next, the community promoted Walking Wednesdays with school fliers and some newspaper advertising. The routes were delineated, and each walking school bus was led by a local “celebrity,” such as a state representative, the mayor, the police chief, the superintendent of schools, two city council members, the chaplain at the local poultry processing plant and the director of public works. Participation has ranged from 100 to 47, he said.
“It was fun to watch kindergartners interact with our state representative,” Kerby said. Another bonus, he said, has been the people in the community seeing “this is a real thing — where we need sidewalks.”
The walking school buses have caused drivers to take notice, too.
Kerby said he recalled the driver of an 18-wheeler seeing the line of children on their single attempt to walk across the city Industrial Park, and “He stopped in the middle of the road.”
“We have a trailer park at the edge of town, and the kids loved walking,” Kerby said, but it was dangerous. “We also had to cancel a walking school bus route that would have put little kids out on U.S. 62. It’s a prime sidewalk route, but too risky right now.”
Green Forest is a rural Ozark Mountains town of 2,717 15 miles from the Missouri state line in a county with a population of 25,000. There are approximately 1,400 students in Green Forest School, and the primary walkers are the students from kindergarten to grade seven.
“If we’re really going to institutionalize walking, it needs to be a regular thing. One of our greatest challenges is instilling in kids’ minds that walking is cool.” Rob Kerby, Executive Director of the Carroll County Resource Council.” As another way to encourage more participation, the Green Forest Tigers junior high soccer team has been trained as safety patrol leaders, and players were told if they would participate, they’d receive new uniforms.
The soccer players accepted the challenge. Not only did they receive new uniforms, but they also went on to win the state championship. “They all had worked together,” Kerby said. “There’s a whole lot of comradery; it’s not all about excelling on the soccer field; it’s about holding the hand of a kindergartner and making sure she crosses the street safety.”
Green Forest’s project evaluator is analyzing walking rate data to see if what they are doing is helping. They also identified a “cafeteria-style” list of community sidewalk priorities that total $500,000. When they can submit an infrastructure grant application in January 2009, they will know what they can do with whatever money they might receive.
An urgent project is connecting two low income trailer parks with the rest of town, Kerby said. The route is dangerous now, but there is a sidewalk within a mile of another existing sidewalk. Making that connection would provide a safe route to school at a cost of $30,000.
Meanwhile, the SRTS committee is planning to recruit adults who can lead walking school buses each day. “If we’re really going to institutionalize walking, it needs to be a regular thing,” Kerby said. They are considering providing punch cards to attach to student backpacks to keep track of walking totals, and they will offer an option of walking the track during gym class for students who must ride the bus because they live too far to walk. They also are looking into other funding opportunities, such as a grant from Entergy Corp., the electrical company that serves Green Forest.
The committee is creating its own pedestrian safety curriculum by combining materials from the Department of the Interior, an Old Walt Disney movie with Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket called “Be Safe, Be Seen” and an American Automobile Association pedestrian safety series called “Otto the Auto.”
“They’re all about traffic safety,” Kerby said. “One of our greatest challenges is instilling in kids’ minds that walking to school is cool. We’re working on ideas, such as getting the high school football quarterback next fall to keep track of his mileage — as well as the high school cross-country team and the captain of the high school soccer team. If we can create a little competition among the high schoolers, it will definitely trickle down to the tenth graders, eighth graders, the fourth graders and the whole school.”
Executive Director of the Carroll County Resource Council