Lincoln Elementary School is in Mount Vernon, Wash., a small city in a rural county. Many of the roads surrounding the school are suitable for walking, but until the introduction of a Healthy School pilot program in 2006, not many students were encouraged to walk to school.
During the 2005 to 2006 school year, the Healthy School pilot project, a branch of Mount Vernon Healthy Communities Project (MVHCP), was introduced at Lincoln Elementary School to encourage physical activity outside of physical education class. To encourage the students, parents voted that the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program begin in spring 2006 with a five-day Walking School Bus event. Parents and community volunteers met children and other parents at three different hubs located approximately one-half mile away from Lincoln Elementary. These hub locations allowed the children who lived far from school to participate in the events. From the various starting points, the Walking School Bus moved along its designated routes and picked up children as it continued to school. The high school band, cheerleading squad and school mascot met the students upon their arrival at school. The success of the first five walking school bus events encouraged Lincoln Elementary to expand its SRTS activities in fall 2006 to include Walking Wednesdays. The school created t-shirts as an incentive for children to walk regularly. Every time a student walked to school or walked around the school track, he or she received a “small feet” certificate. After receiving five small feet, the student won a “Walking to School” t-shirt. Continuous positive results during the fall 2006 semester resulted in the walking school bus to expand to Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of each week during spring and fall 2007.
During physical education class, Lincoln Elementary’s first through sixth graders received pedestrian and bicycle safety lessons from a SRTS coordinator hired by the Mount Vernon School District (MVSD). The children then practiced their skills during a walking field trip near the school’s campus.
In 2006, MVSD received $190,000 in federal SRTS funds through Washington’s Department of Transportation. These funds were used to install missing sidewalks and solar-powered school zone signs, as well as to create a rotating law enforcement speed trailer in two school zones. The speed detectors have had the greatest impact in increasing the children’s safety, and law enforcement officers have reported an increase in the number of motor vehicles traveling at school zone speeds. As a result of this success, city officials have decided to install the speed detectors at all of the elementary schools by the end of 2008.
In spring 2007, Jefferson Elementary School, also in MVSD, introduced its students to the walking school bus.
Approximately one third of Lincoln Elementary students walk to school, and there are walking school buses three days a week. Survey data reveal that there is a positive relationship between the number of days of walking school buses and the levels of physical activity among students at Lincoln Elementary. Jefferson Elementary will have Walking Wednesdays in the spring, and Little Mountain Elementary School coordinators will conduct weekly pedestrian demonstrations from April through June.
To recruit new student pedestrians and volunteers, the MVHCP coordinators are using student residence plot maps and planning to create a walking school bus promotion point at the student drop-off area.
In spring 2008, MVHCP will begin its awareness and enforcement campaign, which will promote yielding to pedestrians through different media, such as local cable television and yard signs. In February 2008, there was a SRTS Planning and Partnership workshop, in which 65 people from northwest Washington attended and discussed various topics, including the funding and application process. The SRTS advisory committee is working on its next SRTS application, which is to be submitted in May 2008. Also, there will be an analysis of the county’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Policies to measure the level of SRTS activities, among other factors. The MCHCP coordinators aim to finish the analysis by August 2008 and will use the results to decide where to best concentrate its efforts.
Crowl Coordinator of Mount Vernon Healthy Communities Project
Phone: (360) 428-2331