By Barbara Read
On Oct. 10 you may have noticed more kids walking to school. There’s a reason for that: Dexter Community Schools hosted its first annual Walk to School Day in partnership with Safe Routes to School, a federally sponsored program.
Dexter Community Services organized the walk and used it as an opportunity to educate kids about road safety. Their stated goal was to “help children and adults get the physical activity they need, reduce congestion and air polluting emissions, and build awareness that Dexter is a walkable community.”
Ninety-one students registered online for the walk, and many more participated. Kim Covert, director of Community Education, counted 65 students at one crossing alone.
The walk was part of a larger effort to aimed at applying for grant money to improve safety for walkers and bike riders. Safe Routes has funding for five schools in Michigan to receive approximately $200,000 each for improvements to support children walking or riding bikes to school. This would include the cost of training, education, and construction projects to improve walkability.
A community meeting was held Wednesday evening to introduce the grant program to the Dexter community and encourage residents to pursue the opportunity. Dexter Village and the school district were both represented at the meeting. The caveat is that grants are for a single school, not the whole district, and cover only a two-mile radius.
Dexter is a particularly well-suited community to receive a grant because fixing one school in Dexter essentially fixes all the schools: Dexter offers more bang for the buck because of its campus layout. The obvious school to focus on would be Creekside Intermediate, which sits across Baker Road from the other schools, but lies within 2 miles of the most troubling road crossings affecting all the schools. Currently, for safety reasons, Creekside policy does not allow students to cross Baker Road unaccompanied.
On this point, Superintendent Mary Marshall said, “We have had two fatalities in the district, so we take a very cautious stand on walkability of roads. Our standards of what is safe are set very high. We have chosen to bus students who live close to us because the roads are very heavily travelled. Crossing Ann Arbor, Dan Hoey and Baker Roads are problematic.”
Village Trustee Paul Cousins agreed, adding that most of the traffic through the village during commute times is from people in outside areas passing through. He pointed out that their interest is in getting to work quickly and that contributes to the unsafe conditions for pedestrians.
Parents are definitely interested in safer routes. Noreen Onesti, whose family has lived in the Netherlands, said her children were used to biking everywhere and coming back to Dexter was a change for them. She is encouraged to see more people are walking and biking now.
“Breakfast is being served, schools are opening earlier and it’s no longer unusual to see a 10-year-old walking to school," she said.
Tina Rice and her son Griffin walk to school regularly.
“Walking to school gives me time to focus on him and give him a boost of confidence before he starts his day. Our walks home from school are usually pretty rushed, but they are so much fun when we can pause to look at leaves and bugs or make a stop at the Dairy Queen. When I pick Griffin up at school, his first question is always, ‘Are we walking?’ and he’s really bummed if I drove,” Rice said.
Attendees at the meeting offered suggestions and pointed out current obstacles students face to walking and biking. If you missed the meeting and have suggestions or concerns, contact Kristin Delaney, firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the first steps to obtaining a grant from the Safe Routes to School group is to make a “walking audit” and take note of problem areas. The initial survey will be conducted Oct. 15 from 9 to 11 a.m., at Creekside Intermediate School by teachers, students and staff. Parents interested in volunteering to help can contact Principal Hyeuo Park.
Editor's note: Barbara Read is a candidate for the Dexter Community Schools Board of Education. She can be reached at http://www.barbararead.org.