Walking School Bus program expands through grants

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 | 6:48 p.m. CDT; updated 7:00 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 23, 2008

COLUMBIA — Money from a state grant will be used to improve the routes students use to get back and forth from school.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has selected Columbia to receive four 2008 Safe Routes to School Non-Infrastructure grants. The grants, which are distributed to eight schools in the district, total just under $59,000.

How they'll use the money

Four grants from the Missouri Department of Transportation will be used in the following ways:
$13,600: Improve and expand the Walking School Bus program at Gentry, Lange and Smithton middle schools
$20,000: Speed/hazardous moving violation enforcement by one officer at West Boulevard and Grant elementary schools and Smithton and Gentry middle schools, three times a week for four weeks
$15,775: Fund a design charrette — a focused planning process — and fund a PedNet consultant and drafting and engineering consultants to redesign the pickup procedure at Grant
$9,275: Fund a design charrette, PedNet consultant and drafting and engineering consultants for Shepard Boulevard Elementary School

Safe Routes strives to provide safe biking and walking arrangements for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The program also aids in the planning, development and implementation of projects that improve safety and reduce traffic.

Beverly Borduin, principal of Grant Elementary School, said the grants will help improve safety there; included in the plans is a discussion of redesigning how students are dropped off and picked up. The school at South Garth Avenue and East Broadway near Broadway’s intersection with Providence Road is subject to traffic congestion in the area.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity,” Borduin said. “Anytime we can get together with the community to solve a problem and get input (it helps).”

In particular, they are looking to ease a bottleneck that develops with after-school pickup. “(It will take) creative problem-solving,” she said. “Garth is busier than ever.”

Also this fall, more students will have the opportunity to walk to school as the Walking School Bus program expands to Derby Ridge and Parkade elementary schools through the grants. In the Walking School Bus, children walk to school with a trained leader along a specific route. One or more trained leaders — whether it be a volunteer, parent or teacher — leads about five to 10 students along a route following various “Walk Stops” to pick students up.

The program encourages children to walk to school to avoid traffic and transportation issues. Additionally, it provides the opportunity for increased physical fitness for children.

“People are beginning to perceive the program not only for the health benefits that walking provides, but also seeing it as a means of transportation,” said Margy Tonnies, Safe Routes to School coordinator for PedNet.

The Walking School Bus will supplement safe transportation programs in place at Parkade and Derby Ridge, Tonnies said.

As of last spring, 65 students were enrolled in the Walking School Bus program at West Boulevard Elementary School. Tonnies said that she anticipates the same number to participate this fall.

New to the program at West Boulevard this year is an option that allows students to ride a bus to Pershing Park and then walk 10 to 12 minutes to school with a leader. Tonnies said she anticipates 50 students will participate in this section of the program.

PedNet also plans to use the funding to provide official bike training for volunteers. 

Columbia’s Walking School Bus program officially started in 2005 through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In 2007, PedNet partnered with the National Safe Routes to School program and received funding for the Walking School Bus program. Currently, there are 250 students and 50 trained leaders district-wide that participate in the program.

Missourian reporter Lauren Johnson contributed to this article.

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