Branching Out: How an Elementary Safe Routes to School Program Is Growing A Middle School Program

Kate MoeningSchool is in session, and getting students to and from home in a safe, timely manner is essential to a healthy learning environment. Students grow, learn and eventually graduate from one school to another. In Gahanna, Ohio the students are growing and maturing, as is the Safe Routes to School program.


Since 2008, Lincoln Elementary School has grown a thriving Safe Routes to School program. Parents, school and city staff have worked together to coordinate walk to school events, present bicycle education training and support students who walk and bicycle to school. Participation in walk/bike to school events has grown over the past four years and the school is including a walking club this year.


Students graduating from Lincoln attend Gahanna Middle School, a grade 6-8 school where the student population is over 50 percent Lincoln Elementary graduates who were exposed to Safe Routes to School. Seventy percent of the student body lives within a one mile radius. The seeds for growing a Safe Routes to School program at this school were planted by former Lincoln parents and students who worked with the South principal to encourage, educate and reinforce safe walking and cycling for students and families.


Principal Kristen Groves, PTO President-Elect Honey Whalen and others met prior to the 2012 school year to evaluate the school grounds and review pedestrian access, busing and parent drop-off and pick-up patterns. They then made a list of infrastructure improvements needed to create a safer walking environment. A major safety issue involved pedestrian conflicts with parent and buses as parents were dropping off and picking up students all over school grounds, without supervision or direction. A new pickup/dropoff procedure was outlined to reduce these conflicts, a parent volunteer pool was established to help direct traffic and walkers and cyclists are kept from walking through the parking lot. The school district is committed to making infrastructure changes, such as widening school entrances, once the new procedures have been evaluated.


This new program is working, and parent and student response has been very positive. A community service/student mentoring program is now being planned; middle schoolers will assist the elementary school walking club by sharing their experiences, walking with younger students to school and helping at Walk/Bike to School days. 

Have a Safe Routes Success Story of your own?  Kate Moening, Ohio advocacy organizer for the Safe Routes Partnership, and Julie Walcoff, Safe Routes to School Coordinator at the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) want to hear from you! Click their names and follow the link to their contact information to share your stories.