Sherwood Forest Elementary School in Winston-Salem, NC, is making strides in its efforts to encourage safe walking to school thanks to strong parent involvement, collaboration with the City of Winston-Salem and donations from local businesses. In 2006, parent volunteer Sharon Sturkie attended a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) workshop with the school principal after he learned about the program at a principal’s meeting.
That workshop sparked their efforts to begin a program at the school, which has approximately 585 students. Few walk and none bike, according to results from the original survey the school sent home to parents in students’ folders. Only 20 to 30 students walked — less than one percent, according to those results, Sturkie said.
“I think it’s important,” Sturkie said. “They don’t have enough physical education as it is.”
Her own children enjoy walking to school. “We walk every day,” she said. “It wakes them up in the morning.” Most families who responded to the survey cited safety concerns about walking and bicycling to school, Sturkie said, “which is why we felt it was important to improve the route and make it safer.” The biggest barrier is the lack of sidewalks in certain areas, “It is a neighborhood school,” she said, with some sidewalks, but there are missing connections, as well as a lack of crosswalks. Some parents cited concerns about “stranger danger.”
School officials worked with city officials during the SRTS grant application process to identify potential areas for sidewalks, and they identified several new crosswalks that the City will paint. One major concern had been developing a sidewalk for Kirklees Road, which is a major artery through the neighborhood. That discussion also identified a small two-house length of sidewalk on Hertford Road that would provide a connection to existing sidewalks, and the City offered to pave that piece.
In conjunction with the infrastructure discussions and developing a grant application, Sturkie created a SRTS committee for the school that has grown to a dozen members. They have focused their efforts on walking and held four “Walk to School With Us This Friday” events. They scheduled those events on the third Fridays of warm weather months in the fall and spring, which coincided with School Spirit Days, and children wore their school T-shirts. A local printing business donated the printing for fliers to advertise the events, and those were placed in student folders; the printers also donated buttons that say “I rock because I walk” for participants once they reach the school. School officials hung a banner to remind students and parents to “Walk to School With Us This Friday.”
The school has partnered with Peacehaven Baptist Church, which agreed to allow parking for families who live too far from the school to walk, so they can participate in the events. Volunteers are stationed along the route, which is less than three-quarters of a mile, to ensure safety at crosswalks and to hand out orange slices to pedestrians.
“We encourage parents to walk with kids,” Sturkie said. “It’s completely optional; it’s fun.”
The response has been positive, with participation ranging from 125 to 175 people. Keeping accurate counts has some challenges, she said, since some people walk from home, and others join the route along the way at locations that may not be counted. Sturkie said the committee purposefully decided not to offer prizes for participation.
“The reason we don’t do prizes is because there are some kids who cannot participate even if they want to,” she said.
Sturkie said the school will reapply for a $190,000 SRTS infrastructure grant to build sidewalks along Kirklees from Friar Tuck Road to Archer Road because that piece of sidewalk is critical to make the routes safer for much of the neighborhood.
SRTS Chairperson for Sherwood Forest Elementary School