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Biking & Walking
Walking in a Winter Wonderland: Safe Routes to School in South Berwick
On Friday January 29th and Monday, Feb 8th 2010, students at the Marshwood Great Works and Central Elementary in South Berwick will be taking two more of their fun and wintry walks to school. About 5 years ago, in a warmer season, Marshwood Great Works hosted a one-day Walk and Bike to School event. Principal Jerry Burnell at Great Works says, “At the time, we all said ‘This is great! Why should we do this just once a year?’ So the next year we held maybe two or three Walk to School Days. And since then, we’ve done them once or twice a month.” That means even through the winter.
Once Central Elementary (grades PreK-3) saw what Great Works was up to, “We had to do it, too,” say Vicki Stewart, principal at Central. “We’ve done it for three years now and we love our Walk to School days!” Stewart explains. The sidewalks are generally plowed, “But,” Stewart says, “If there’s fresh snow we just walk over it.”
Marshwood Great Works pulls fourth and fifth grade students from the two towns of South Berwick and Eliot, so the children are dropped by bus seven tenths of a mile up the street from the school. “It’s great to see the kids waiting for each other and then heading off to school in groups. Parents enjoy walking, too.” There is a church parking lot at the same location that some parents use to drop their kids off by car, for them to walk the rest of the way as well.
The Central Elementary students, in turn, are dropped at the Great Works School to walk back in the other direction. “So it’s fun to see them cross paths with our kids and give each other high-fives as they go,” Burnell says. And as Stewart shares, “Many of the Great Works’ kids went to our school when they were younger and it’s really sweet to see them. Some are passing brothers and sisters along the way and greeting them, too. And parents and neighbors love seeing us out there. You should hear some of the conversations the kids get into – they are wonderful! It really becomes a social event, both for the kids and for the adults involved, too.”
“We’ve got a great location for walking here on Academy Street, near the center of the community, with sidewalks.” Burnell points out. “The staff enjoys it – many of them participate. And we keep it very simple.” The Walk and Bike to School dates for the year are decided on ahead of time, in the summer. And because both schools principals are actively involved, the dates are set so they’ll have no conflicting morning meetings and can be sure to attend. A letter then goes out at the beginning of the school year, with the specific dates and a one-time permission slip for parents to sign.
How cold does it have to get to cancel a Walk to School Day? “One morning it was 5 or 6 degrees,” Burnell begins, “And the teacher who generally helps out with overseeing kids as they arrive in front of the school came into my office, thinking that I would be canceling the Walk to School event. It’s not hard to do, because I can just radio the bus drivers to bring the students all the way to school. Instead, she found me putting my boots on, ready to go.” Stewart adds, “We’re just hardcore. I don’t think we’ve ever canceled a Walk to School Day because of cold weather.” Besides, as Great Works school staff point out, the kids look forward to the hot cocoa that school cafeteria staff share with them on their arrival.
Burnell points out that his school’s physical education program includes cross country skiing and snowshoeing, so kids know to come to school prepared to be outside in colder weather. “It just becomes an expectation. These kids live in Maine after all.” Stewart echoes Burnell’s comments, “I’m from Michigan, so I’m familiar with cold winters. Jerry and I are definitely on the same page about the importance of getting our kids outside – even if it’s a really cold day, it’s great if they bundle up and just run around outside a bit to get some fresh air. The walk to school days through the winter are also the perfect opportunity for that. ”
The Central pre-K through third grade crew is a little slower than the Great Works fourth and fifth graders, “So we don’t have time for a cocoa break when they arrive,” Stewart explains. “The little ones with short legs and big boots can take up to twenty minutes to make it to the school – but they feel so accomplished to have made it all that way. I’m always the last one and I’ve never once had to carry anyone – not even a grown-up,” Stewart laughs.
When the younger kids are getting off the bus in winter, they are reminded to zip up their coats, pull down their hats, get their mittens out and otherwise prepare for the short walk. And in “old school” ways they are encouraged to improvise when needed. “If someone’s forgotten their mittens we encourage them to pull their hands up into their sleeves,” says Stewart.
Two Central staff members accompany each busload of students, with one staff person walking at the front of the group and one taking up the rear. “It actually works really well,” Stewart says, “Because the Great Works kids get to walk more on their own, with just a few Great Works staff posted along the route to help out – so those stationary folks help our Central kids along, too.”
The numbers of students participating goes down some in the winter months, “But not much,” Burnell says, “Out of 350 students [at Marshwood Great Works], in general over the school year we have about 300 participating. Some kids can’t do it as easily – although we have one young guy in a wheelchair who does it on a regular basis – and some kids just won’t do it, but for most of the students it’s simply become part of what we do.”
“It’s just not a big deal,” says Burnell. “You get off the bus, you walk seven tenths of mile, you have some hot cocoa, you head to class. The kids love it. I think sometimes as adults we make things too complicated. This is not hard to do.”
A little bit of walking seems to be catching, too. “Great Works kids who live closer in to the village area don’t have busing from their homes. But they do have the option to walk to Central – and then can catch one of the buses that arrives there and take it on over to us at Great Works,” Burnell shares. “But I’ve noticed that a number of students aren’t waiting for the bus, but just walking over here instead. I would say by getting them out there we’ve encouraged them to walk on a more regular basis.”
Posted on 1/15/2010 | Back
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