Giving kids safe routes to school

October 4, 2021

To encourage physical activities and healthy habits for elementary and middle school students, UM-Dearborn helped land a $100,000 grant to implement the Safe Routes to School Program.

 Graphic illustrating the Safe Routes to School program
Graphic illustrating the Safe Routes to School program

Looking out her home’s picture window, Associate Professor Carmel Price sees children riding bikes, skipping and walking to school.

“It’s great seeing the kids so active first thing in the morning,” said Price, a Dearborn resident. “This year, I’ve  seen more kids biking and walking in the morning than in past years. I’m hoping this is a trend that continues.”

In addition to seeing friends when they returned to school, there’s another reason why kids are excited this fall: The Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS). SRTS is a federal program that makes it safe, convenient and fun for children to roll — on bikes, skates or wheelchairs; children with physical differences are encouraged to participate too — and walk to school.

The national program was brought into the community by Healthy Dearborn — that’s the coalition that encourages a culture of health in Dearborn through promoting active living and healthy eating strategies and programming. Price serves on Healthy Dearborn’s Steering Committee and is chair of Healthy Dearborn’s research team, which helped secure the nearly $100,000 Michigan Fitness Foundation funding, through the Michigan Department of Transportation, to implement the national health-focused program for Dearborn Public Schools. Price worked closely on the grant with Susan Grasso, Healthy Dearborn Steering Committee member and Healthy Environments Action Team co-chair.

As part of the SRTS program, there’s a "Walk N Roll Junior Challenge" this academic year. Here’s how the contest works: Dearborn Public School students who participate will log how many days per week they walked or rolled to school. The school with the highest amount of participation among their students will be selected to win prizes and other schools will win prizes too, based on random drawings. Top awards include new bicycles. Bicycle racks will be provided to two schools based on need. And participation prizes include helmets and water bottles. The grant will be used to pay for prizes and stipends for physical education teachers and program coordinators.

Participating Dearborn Public Schools are Haigh Elementary, Howard Elementary, Lindbergh Elementary,  McCullough-Unis School, McDonald Elementary, Oakman Elementary, O.L. Smith Middle School, Saline Elementary, Salina Intermediate and Whitmore-Bolles Elementary. The selected schools represent all areas of the city and are in close proximity to the streets used for the Dearborn Healthy Streets program. In the future, the plan is to have all elementary and middle schools participate if they choose.

“I live and work in Dearborn and I care a lot about this community. The SRTS program works well in Dearborn because we have neighborhood schools. The goal is to encourage kids, when they are able, to walk or bike with friends or family,” Price said. 

The SRTS program in Dearborn is possible because of partnerships. The team of people working on the project include representation from the City of Dearborn, Dearborn Public Schools, Beaumont’s Healthy Dearborn Coalition, Leaders Advancing & Helping Communities and the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Through Price’s grant, UM-Dearborn secured the funding for the program.

Ryan Lazar, who is from the Dearborn Public Schools and helps coordinate the program, is pleased with the grant’s support and looks forward to seeing active change in the community. “An added benefit is that it alleviates vehicular traffic in areas around school, making the streets safer and less congested, but the ultimate goal is to encourage health and physical activity among our students,” Lazar said.

And — just a couple weeks into the program — the results are encouraging. Not only can Price see the increased biking and walking out her window, 823 students have enrolled in the SRTS program and 2081 walking or biking trips to school have been logged.

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.