St. Pete inner-city elementary students get a legs-on lesson in pedestrian safety

10/03/12 Janelle Irwin
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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. Petersburg’s poorest neighborhoods. It’s 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 school’s principle, Godfrey Watson said most of those students do it everyday.

“So, if we do it in a group they’re safer, they know all the ways of walking to school – crossing the street properly and being with their friends. And it’s 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 – breakfast – and they’re ready to learn. And so we get them there, they’re in their classroom, they’re ready to learn and that’s how we create success at Campbell Park.”

But it was raining – hard at times. Watson said inclement weather doesn’t stop students who don’t have other means of transportation to and from school.

“They walk in the rain so, what United Way and the [Tampa Bay] Rays and Jabil have done – we’ve got umbrellas for the kids, we’ve got ponchos for the kids so rain or shine – they’re going to be like the mail, they get to school and that’s the important part of this.”

The walk to school event sponsored by those groups is called “The Walking School Bus.” It’s part of All Children’s Hospital’s 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.

“They’re getting the health benefit of it by exercise walking to school. They’re walking in a big, large, organized group with parent supervision to ensure that safety, ensure they’re getting to school on time and things like that.”

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.

“But we wanted to just kind of get it more organized – making sure that they’re all walking together, that they’re stopping, that they’re crossing at the crosswalks, that they’re walking on the sidewalk, they’re 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.”

The group of students was followed by police cars and a fire truck – all with their lights blazing through the haze of wind and rain. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said that’s a shout out to motorists to drive just a little safer.

“It 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.”

Keeping students safe on their way to school isn’t just about looking both ways before you cross the street. Foster started a program called ANTS – 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.

“There’s safety, there’s nothing more important, and it’s more than just making sure that the sidewalks are maintained. It’s the condition of the housing, it’s boarded up structures, it’s potential criminal activity that might be occurring at a particular house. So, yeah, I’ll take note of things that we cross as we go to school and I’m going to do that for most, for all of our elementary schools just to see what the kids have to face on their way.”

This isn’t 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 weren’t getting to school in the safest conditions.

“Last 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 don’t have sidewalks on them so they just dart all out.”

That doesn’t 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.

“We 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.”

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 doesn’t mind the trek - even in the rain – because it gives her a chance to be with her friends.

“Sometimes we play patty cake with our friends and people will join along.”

Tomorrow morning the students will wake up and do it all over again. They won’t have a fire truck in tow, but they don’t mind.

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