Federal grant to teach safety for bikers, walkers (5/21/09)

May 21, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston School District recently received more than $14,000 in federal grant money to help educate students about bike and pedestrian safety, as well as determine the safest alternative transportation routes to school.

As part of the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program, both schools in the district will split up the funding — $6,780 going to Allen Brook School and $7,415 for Williston Central School.

Williston received the funding through the efforts of the nonprofit organization Local Motion. The Burlington-based group works to foster alternative and active transportation through education and the creation of new bike routes throughout northwestern Vermont. Local Motion secured more than $103,000 in grant money from VTrans for schools around Chittenden County, including Williston.

Starting in the fall, students in the district will take part in educational programs focusing on walking and biking to school, as well as how to do so safely. Charlene Wallace, the director of operations for Local Motion, said the Safe Routes to School program encourages students to find alternative means for getting to and from school, as well as teaching them safety.

“We can help students get outside before school starts and after it ends,” Wallace said. “And we know that physical activity improves educational performance.”

Wallace said the funding goes toward events for the Safe Routes to School program, as well as supporting the program’s coordinators, who will visit students during physical education classes.

Aimee Pope, the Safe Routes to School coordinator with VTrans, said the program is 100 percent federally funded. Starting next school year, 75 schools around Vermont will participate, Pope said.

Wallace said Safe Routes to School coordinators from Local Motion will visit physical education classes in Williston several times next school year. The fall semester will be geared toward information about walking to school and determining safe routes for students. Wallace said students would learn which side of the road is best to walk on, as well as how to use crosswalks and road signals.

In the spring, students in grades three through eight will learn about bicycling to school and the safety issues that can arise from that.

Wallace said Williston might choose to start an incentive program for students who choose to walk or bike to school. Schools in the past have created punch cards for students, she said. Once a student walks or bikes to school a certain number of times, as determined through the punch card, that student may receive a prize.

Cathy Kohlasch, a physical education teacher at Williston Central, said the idea of bringing the Safe Routes to School program to the district would help the department. Kohlasch said students learn about pedestrian and biker safety “sporadically” in school, but this will make it a focus.

“With all the bike paths going through town, it seemed like a natural fit to us,” Kohlasch said.

While some students will invariably live too far from school to walk or bike to class, they’ll still learn the importance of safety in these activities, Wallace said.

“These are life lessons,” Wallace said.