Safe Routes grant means more Milton students are walking to school



MILTON, Ga. — At just a few minutes before 7 a.m., the first students arrived on foot, always with a parent and sometimes a younger sibling in a stroller. Each walker received a Dum Dum Pop, a foot-shaped charm from PTA Walk to School Day coordinators Ali Sapp and Jenny Herman and a high-five from CC the Colt, Crabapple Crossing Elementary’s mascot, on his or her way into the building.

One foot charm is handed out to each walker on the appointed monthly Walk to School Day. Students collect the feet, hanging them from a keychain on their backpacks. Those who have feet from all eight Walk to School Days at the end of the year get special recognition from Principal George Freiberger.

“Mr. Freiberger has done a great job of promoting fitness,” Sapp said.

On Thursday, Jan. 17, about 190 students participated in Crabapple Crossing Elementary’s monthly Walk to School Day. Some months, as many as 400 students – or nearly half the student population – participate.

On January’s Walk to School Day, kindergartner Andrew Mashburn walked 30 minutes to school with his grandmother, Jane Mashburn.

“He waits for this,” Jane Mashburn said. “That’s what hopped him out of bed. It’s easy to walk.”

These walks have been going for four years. Before that, Crabapple Crossing parent Debbie Williamson said children wanting to walk or bike to school had a much more difficult time.

“It just wasn’t safe,” she explained. “No lighting, mud [and] bushes discouraged kids from walking to school five to six years ago. It inspired us to really ramp things up.”

First, the school participated in a walk to school study that measured weather’s impact on school walkers. Participating children wore an electronic device on their backpacks and a solar device on campus counted those children as they arrived at school.

More children can safely walk to Summit Hill and Crabapple Crossing elementary schools and Northwestern Middle School because the three schools partnered with the city of Milton to apply for a $500,000 Safe Routes to School grant to make getting to school more biker- and walker-friendly. The grant was awarded in 2008, and work began in fall 2010.

“We were the project selected for our congressional district,” explained Sara Leaders, transportation engineer for the city of Milton.

According to the Safe Routes to School plan the city and three schools developed during the 2008-09 school year, 73 percent of Crabapple Crossing’s students live within a two-mile radius of the school, an easy walking distance. However, some of those students were inhibited by sidewalk gaps, not enough crosswalks, school zone signage that needed improvements, necessary Americans with Disabilities Act improvements to sidewalks and the fact that the three schools are on highly traveled roads.

“We looked at what gaps could make the most impact and help the most students,” explained Leaders. “[Students] could walk before, but now it’s much easier. They don’t have to cross the roads without a crosswalk.”

Now, the project is nearly completed, and only waiting for a final sign-off from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

For these efforts, Crabapple Crossing Elementary was awarded gold level status for the Safe Routes to School program for the 2011-12 school year, and was nominated to represent Georgia as a 2012 Georgia Green Ribbon School in a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

“It’s given people the confidence that they can get to and from [school] safely,” Williamson said. “Rain or shine, it works.”

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