Archive for Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Grant’s goal: More youngsters walking to school

November 22, 2006

Lansing public schools, with the help of a new grant, will begin work on a program designed to encourage more children to walk or ride a bike to school.

The district in October learned it was one of 24 recipients of grant funds from the Kansas Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to Schools program.

The district's award was $13,989.

"Right now, everybody wants to transport their kids to school because of all of the construction going on," said Mary Alice Schroeger, who wrote the district's grant proposal. "But when the construction goes away, we need to be thinking about healthy behaviors, like walking and biking, for kids getting to school."

Safe Routes to Schools is a new federal program designed to enable and encourage children to walk or bicycle to school; make walking and biking to school safe and appealing; and help with projects that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in the vicinity of schools.

The Lansing district's proposal envisions a comprehensive plan that addresses education, traffic relief and improving safety, health and fitness for students.

Schroeger, who also is a French teacher in the district, said her years of having before- and after-school parking lot duties have shown her the need for more safety education.

"You can never do too much safety training for kids, be they walkers, bike riders or drivers," she said.

Part of the plan will be to train a group of teachers, police officers and city and school administrators to become "Safe Routes to Schools champions," who in turn will instruct students and colleagues in the ideals of the program.

The program also envisions handing out pedometers to middle-schoolers and at least 150 helmets for students who will bicycle to school.

Goals of the Lansing plan by May 2008 call for a 25 percent increase in the number of children walking, a 15 percent increase in the number of children who bike, and a 15 percent increase in the number of students driven via carpool to school.

Schroeger said the district and city have more than the recently received grant as a carrot to see that the program is successful: The state will be offering phase II grants of up to $250,000 for infrastructure improvements - sidewalks, bike routes, etc.

"Because we were awarded phase I, if we execute it well and wisely, we'll have good standing for the phase II grants," Schroeger said.

The federally-funded Safe Routes to Schools program will provide $615 million to cities, school districts and other entities throughout the nation during a five-year period. Kansas will receive about $1 million this year, increasing in following years to about $1.6 million in 2009, according to the state transportation department.

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