Cherokee Nation Public Health works with 14 counties in tribal jurisdictions in northeastern Oklahoma. A community transformation grant from the CDC allowed their work to expand into Safe Routes to School roughly five years ago, laid out specifically as an objective in their community work plan. They work with local community coalitions to align their work plans, keeping Safe Routes to School part of the conversation at all levels where they are involved. They have also been able to introduce SRTS into rural areas that have infrastructure challenges due to access issues. Even as funding has slowed down, community coalitions have sustained efforts over the years and are still working on SRTS and other built environment activities. A few great examples of their ongoing work follow:
A city planner in Pryor turned out to be a valuable champion and key in moving SRTS forward. He utilized the high school leadership team to initiate a walking school bus program. This same leadership team also helped improve the built environment. To bring more awareness to a crosswalk, they painted the school mascot on the roadway, making it safer due to the better visibility. This resulted in opening the door for conversation with local municipalities about the built environment and areas of connectability around the city, leveraging local leadership support to talk about a transportation plan, and writing grants to do a trail system. This same champion also helped other communities by sharing the right language they could use to promote SRTS successfully.
The city of Tahlequah, Cherokee County had a walkability assessment in four communities with Dan Burden. After the audit, they shared the information gained with the schools, and got the city leadership and mayor involved as well. Since the assessment, they have a small group of active transportation advocates who stayed together to continue to look at walkability and utilize the information from the assessment. They even planned a walkable day where they shut down streets and brought in community businesses to raise awareness around walkability and how it relates to health - keeping the conversation of active transportation going!
Yet another success can be seen in the town of Nowata. During a walkability audit, they discussed a two-way street around a school in need of improvements to make it safer for pedestrians. Using input from the walkability assessment, they changed the street to a one way, making it much safer. Kids could even use it as a walkway to a Boys and Girls Club building after school.
As a tribal community, the biggest impact they’ve seen from Safe Routes to School is that it works! Even something as simple as changing student pick up and drop off showed people that SRTS really can make it safer for students. As people understand what SRTS is, they see how it impacts more than just walking and biking to and from school, but how it positively impacts health and leads to even bigger things.