Safe Routes to School in Rural (Yes, Rural) New Jersey

Nora ShepardMost people think of New Jersey as an urban place -- after all, it has the highest population density in the country. There are many dense urban cities and suburban communities, but there are also large rural areas with small towns and open spaces. Contrary to what you might initially think, there are lessons to be learned in New Jersey about Safe Routes to School in rural settings. Here are two examples of schools in rural settings finding creative solutions to encourage students to walk to school: 

Mount Holly, New Jersey

In many rural areas, the distance between home and school is often too far to practically walk or bicycle and most rural districts rely heavily on busing and/or parent drop off. This is the case at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Mount Holly, NJ. School arrival and dismissal times were snarled with parent drop off and school bus conflicts. Teachers and school officials became traffic mediators every morning. At the same time, the school was learning about Safe Routes to School and wanted to participate in Walk to School Day.  School Principal Carla Chiarelli, along with Cross County Connection SRTS Coordinator David Calderetti, devised a plan to use a remote drop-off location for a walk to school day activity. They found that they could use Fairground Plaza, a half-mile away, as a satellite drop off zone. The effort kicked off on Walk to School Day in 2012 and was a huge success! Since then, the school has organized numerous satellite walk to school days to raise awareness for health and social issues, including Hurricane Sandy relief and breast cancer. 

Ogdenburg, New Jersey

Located in Sussex County along a rural county road, Ogdensburg can only be reached by car from surrounding areas. Very few residential streets are equipped with sidewalks. Only some portions of Main Street (County Road 517) have sidewalks.

In 2013, Ogdensburg School was eager to participate in International Walk to School Day. Due to lack of infrastructure and connectivity, getting students to school safely was looking to be a challenge. Andrew Lappitt , the Safe Routes to School Coordinator with  TransOptions attended Ogdensburg’s Back to School Night in order to inform parents and students of the upcoming Walk to School Day. Andrew explained the concept of a Walking School Bus and asked parents where the best Walking School Bus Stops could be located. Parents suggested the local Fire House, several cul-de-sacs and an open space about ½ mile west of Main Street. Andrew also recruited parents to volunteer in walking each group to Ogdensburg School. In October 2013, Ogdensburg celebrated Walk to School Day with four Walking School buses totaling approximately 100 students. Ogdensburg School continues to celebrate Walk to School Day on a monthly basis. During the week of a Walk to School Day, signs are posted around the school that state, “Walk to School Day this Friday! Meet at your Walking School Bus Stops!”