Safe Routes to School is a fully institutionalized program at Oakbrook Middle School, but this was not always the case. In 2012, a parent interested in promoting health and obesity prevention learned about SRTS programs and the Resource Center’s comprehensive approach to improving the health and safety of students. With the help of the Lowcountry’s SRTS School Outreach Coordinator (SOC) and the support of the school principal, Brion Rutherford, Oakbrook Middle School started a SRTS program as a way to encourage physical activity through walking and biking to school. Within a year, the program evolved as a wellness committee charged with leading SRTS activities and events to promote student health, wellness, and safety was developed.
Like many SRTS programs, Oakbrook Middle School’s first activity was an International Walk to School Day event. With the intention of making walking to school feasible for more students, a group of staff members worked together to evaluate possible safe routes to Oakbrook and advertised park-and-walk locations for students and parents to meet on the day of the event. Both meeting spots had multiple volunteers helping the students navigate the routes and cross intersections.
The event proved to be successful, with impressive turnouts at all meeting locations. Staff members and students were visibly excited as they walked to school with their friends. Parents were also eager to start the day with a fun, educational experience shared with their children. The vice principal greeted the students and parents upon arrival at the school. Parents, students, staff, and volunteers enjoyed the social and energetic start to the day.
Teachers and staff members continued with their mission. By the following semester (spring 2013), the SRTS team had evolved into a comprehensive wellness committee and began meeting monthly to identify and implement health and safety programs. The team agreed upon a mission statement, saying that they pledge “to promote health and wellness among staff and students through education and fun activities.” The wellness committee has since expanded to include partnership with a doctor, lunch room staff, and other MUSC and Boeing health advocates. Each month they evaluate their progress towards achieving their vision, and they discuss ways to improve or expand their project list. SRTS activities are always on the agenda.
Since its first meeting in the fall of 2012, the Oakbrook Middle School Safe Routes and Wellness Committee has organized school participation in South Carolina Walk to School Day, implemented weekly walks (Walk-to-School Fridays), and the Subway Fit-for-Life 15-day challenge. The committee also collected information on student travel modes via the student travel tally forms in all classrooms.
In the fall of 2013, the wellness committee began hosting weekly walk events to sustain enthusiasm for walking to school throughout the year. Every Friday, school staff members supervise two park-and-walk locations to provide supervision for pedestrian students during school arrival. Students became involved in promoting events by advertising International Walk to School Day 2013 on the student-run news show. Students interviewed Dr. Joe Moore from the University of South Carolina, providing information on the event logistics, and discussing the health benefits of walking or biking to school on a regular basis. Click here to see the news segment: https://vimeo.com/76458873
With help from the wellness committee, the school has participated in every statewide SRTS event and continues to look for other programs and initiatives that promote health, wellness, and safety.
Even more exciting, the SRTS encouragement activities have created lasting change in student travel patterns. In the fall of 2012, only a few students were walking to school regularly. Recent student travel mode data shows that between 10-13% of students walk to school. The wellness committee is thrilled with these results and is confident that the SRTS events and activities will encourage more students to walk and bike to school in the coming years.