St. Pete inner-city elementary students get a legs-on lesson in pedestrian safety
Some kids walking to school everyday face speeding drivers, sidewalks in disrepair and any number of other dangers. More than 40 students walked a mile in the rain today on their way to an elementary school in inner-city St.Pete. With police officers, firefighters and the mayor in tow, the students learned how to keep safe.
Campbell Park Elementary is in one of St. Petersburgâs poorest neighborhoods. Itâs classified a Title I school which means that at least 75% of students receive free or reduced lunch. Campbell Park is at 93%. Students walked to school together in large groups today as part of International Walk to School Day. But the schoolâs principle, Godfrey Watson said most of those students do it everyday.
âSo, if we do it in a group theyâre safer, they know all the ways of walking to school â crossing the street properly and being with their friends. And itâs also a way of getting them to school in time for breakfast. So we get them there by 8:30. They get a full meal â breakfast â and theyâre ready to learn. And so we get them there, theyâre in their classroom, theyâre ready to learn and thatâs how we create success at Campbell Park.â
But it was raining â hard at times. Watson said inclement weather doesnât stop students who donât have other means of transportation to and from school.
âThey walk in the rain so, what United Way and the [Tampa Bay] Rays and Jabil have done â weâve got umbrellas for the kids, weâve got ponchos for the kids so rain or shine â theyâre going to be like the mail, they get to school and thatâs the important part of this.â
The walk to school event sponsored by those groups is called âThe Walking School Bus.â Itâs part of All Childrenâs Hospitalâs Safe Routes to School Program. Tiffany Sabiel is the community educator for the initiative. She said the program targets all elementary schools to promote both pedestrian safety and active living.
âTheyâre getting the health benefit of it by exercise walking to school. Theyâre walking in a big, large, organized group with parent supervision to ensure that safety, ensure theyâre getting to school on time and things like that.â
But because about 90 students already walk to school every day in the Campbell Park neighborhood and surrounding areas, Sabiel said getting all of those students together in an organized event gets the kids excited about walking safely.
âBut we wanted to just kind of get it more organized â making sure that theyâre all walking together, that theyâre stopping, that theyâre crossing at the crosswalks, that theyâre walking on the sidewalk, theyâre not running out in traffic. So, to help organize it and to have the parents involved and really take back that sense of community is awesome.â
The group of students was followed by police cars and a fire truck â all with their lights blazing through the haze of wind and rain. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said thatâs a shout out to motorists to drive just a little safer.
âIt gives the public that visibility that little ones are walking to school and not everybody takes a bus and it raises a public safety awareness for the young people.â
Keeping students safe on their way to school isnât just about looking both ways before you cross the street. Foster started a program called ANTS â Advancing Neighborhoods Through Schools. It began at nearby Melrose Elementary. The idea, Foster said, is to walk with the students to identify possible safety hazards along the path.
âThereâs safety, thereâs nothing more important, and itâs more than just making sure that the sidewalks are maintained. Itâs the condition of the housing, itâs boarded up structures, itâs potential criminal activity that might be occurring at a particular house. So, yeah, Iâll take note of things that we cross as we go to school and Iâm going to do that for most, for all of our elementary schools just to see what the kids have to face on their way.â
This isnât the first time Campbell Park students have had a helping hand from the Walking School Bus program. Karen Richardson is a grandmother of a first grader at the school. She and other parents organized their own safe route for students after realizing that kids werenât getting to school in the safest conditions.
âLast year when I was driving my granddaughter to school when she was in Kindergarten kids would dart all out in the street, you know, in front of the cars and everything and just walking in the street cause some of the streets donât have sidewalks on them so they just dart all out.â
That doesnât happen this year. Richardson, with help from other parents, organized a walking route that catered to students from all over the neighborhood. She starts at the Enoch Davis Community Center with most of the walkers and then other students and parents join as the group gets closer to the school.
âWe have about four stops. This is just one of the stops. This is the biggest stop though. So, we have about four stops and between the four stops we probably have about 50 kids.â
And the kids have fun.
Calea Parks is a fourth grade student at Campbell Park. She walks to school almost every day. She said she doesnât mind the trek - even in the rain â because it gives her a chance to be with her friends.
âSometimes we play patty cake with our friends and people will join along.â
Tomorrow morning the students will wake up and do it all over again. They wonât have a fire truck in tow, but they donât mind.
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