Holdredge, Nebraska: Community concerns lead to safer paths

Introduction

In spring 2007, Holdrege Public Schools in Holdrege, NE, applied for and received two federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grants through the Nebraska Department of Roads’ Safe Routes Nebraska program — one $167,883 infrastructure grant and one $19,603 non-infrastructure grant. With these funds, four elementary schools and the city’s middle school will benefit from a variety of infrastructure and non-infrastructure improvements.

“It’s the community working together as a team for the good of our students, so that’s always a good thing, whether for wellness or academics,” said Cinde Wendell, superintendent of Holdrege Public Schools.

Activities

The idea to implement SRTS programs stemmed from the issues the schools faced with traffic congestion at pick-up and drop-off locations, as well as concerns for wellness and childhood obesity. The SRTS goal of encouraging students to walk or bicycle to school fit well within the school’s wellness plan, Wendell said. In 2006, teachers from the middle school and two elementary schools sent travel surveys home with their students for the parents to fill out. Kathy Vetter, the curriculum and technology integration administrator at Holdrege Public Schools, collected the surveys she received from the parents of more than 600 students from the middle school and two elementary schools. After compiling the results, Vetter learned that less than 10 percent of the students walked to school and less than five percent bicycled.

To increase the number of students walking and bicycling to school, the city will begin infrastructure improvements in fall 2008. One of the major infrastructure improvements will be the installation of a sidewalk connecting the city park to the middle school. Students will be able to use the path to walk to school, and parents can use the park as a pick-up and drop-off location. There also will be sidewalk segments installed near the high school. High school students drive through the areas where the middle school students walk, Wendell said, so the sidewalks will provide a safe place for middle school students to walk. In addition to the sidewalk installations, the city of Holdrege will purchase a pedestrian-activated crossing light, two new school zone flashing lights, one movable quick read with radar speed indicator device and two bicycle racks.

The middle school principal has initiated a change in the school’s pick-up and drop-off area to the back of the school building to create a safer area in front for the students who walk and bicycle to school. The non-infrastructure projects and activities began at the five schools during the fall 2007 school year. These activities included a public awareness campaign for parents and children on the benefits of walking and bicycling to school. The schools disseminated pedestrian and bicycle safety information through the use of public service announcements, the local media and the Safe Communities Coalition. Safe Communities, a coalition comprised of local hospitals, the public health department, the schools and local law enforcement, organized monthly assemblies for all kindergarten through eighth grade students.

At these monthly assemblies, speakers discussed bicycle and pedestrian activities, and there was a bicycle raffle. For students to be eligible for the bicycle raffle, Wendell said students had to exercise consistently. To keep track of the miles they walked or bicycled, each student was given a pedometer. There are plans for a Walk to School Day during the fall 2008 school year, but already students have taken advantage of the less congested parking lot.

“Just from observation, we’ve noticed a lot more students walking,” Wendell said.

Milestones

Because of the number of organizations throughout the community involved in implementing SRTS programs and activities, Vetter said the public schools’ relationship with other agencies has strengthened.

“I just think it’s been a good community awareness piece — the community has worked well together, and the city has worked hard to put in the structural pieces,” she said.

Contact

Cinde Wendell
Superintendent
Email: Wendell@esu11.org

Kathy Vetter
Curriculum and Technology Integration Administrator
Email: KVetter@esu11.org

Holdrege Public Schools
P.O. Box 2002
Holdrege, NE 68949-2002