Trail-blazing: the movement afoot

News Sep 01, 2017 by Bill Jackson Kitchener Post

The scene around some local elementary schools will be a lot brighter this fall, and not just because of the season change.

Dozens of students at select schools will become volunteer trailblazers — outfitted in bright, neon vests, with a mission of encouraging their peers to walk to school.

The program, which includes a safety training component, will be piloted at 11 schools in the region as part of a new, concerted focus on student travel planning.

Last year, Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region established a dedicated, full-time student travel planner that’s funded by both school boards and the region’s three cities.

“Transportation planning has traditionally focused on busing,” said Leslie Maxwell, who’s been in the role since last September.

Now, some schools are introducing the concept of a walking school bus — a parent-led walking group that works like a traditional school bus.

“Children walk to school under the supervision of one or more adults following a specific route and schedule, offering a good solution for parents of children from JK to Grade 3 who have no older sibling to walk them,” Maxwell explained.

“Some parents who already walk with their children volunteer their time to lead one or two days a week, and catch a break on the other days when other parents lead. In some areas, senior citizens volunteer their time to give more working parents a time break in the morning.”

The initiative being introduced at Sandhills Public School this year is based on a model already employed at Wellesley Public School; it is one of many underway that encourages active transportation.

While there are other movements afoot — “encouragement days,” such as Walking Wednesdays — they don’t always find their way into the organizations of school boards and municipalities, Maxwell noted.

“The problem of traffic in front of school and children not getting enough exercise are problems still shared by a number of stakeholders,” she said.

According to a report to Kitchener council in 2015, increased traffic volume in school zones resulted in complaints from area residents regarding blocked driveways and unsafe street congestion. Bylaw officers were issuing tickets in locations where pickups and drop-offs are prohibited, but enforcement wasn’t addressing the underlying problem.

The main issue boils down to this: many parents are driving their kids to school, when they shouldn’t be.

Convenience, fast-paced lifestyles, safety concerns and “laziness” are all causal factors. “It’s a product of our time,” Maxwell said.

Most students are either eligible for bus service or they’re in a walk zone.

“So, they should be walking or they should be on a bus,” she said. “Plain and simple. Our kids are capable of a lot more than we think they’re capable of and our region is far safer than some parents think it is.

“It’s a good place to walk to school.”

And it’s now Maxwell’s mandate to make it happen.

The responsibility of the school travel planner is to review up to five elementary schools per year in the city of Kitchener, and provide recommendations for various initiatives that encourage walking and cycling. However, anyone with concerns can contact her for advice.

Solutions usually hinge on involvement from schools and surrounding communities.

Maxwell usually assesses each situation with the school’s principal first, and a survey of student travel patterns can ensue before tangible fixes are applied.

In some cases, dedicated committees have been struck. “Both school boards eventually would like to see a travel plan at every school,” Maxwell stated.

This year, walking events are lined up for the first day at Groh and Chicopee Hills public schools — two new schools in the Waterloo Region District School Board that aim to support and encourage active transportation from the outset.

Some schools, such as St. John Paul II Catholic Elementary School, are introducing way-finding signage. Others are using sidewalk paint.

With help of a neighbourhood grant from the city, Wilson Public School will be painting the intersection in front of the school with a unique design. Though the artwork hasn’t yet been finalized, a community paint day is scheduled in October.

But, it will take more than paint and neon vests to make a difference, Maxwell said.

“It takes a lot of messaging from a lot of different places,” she said, adding that many people adopt active lifestyles once they realize benefits.

“Twenty minutes of walking in the morning can increase a child’s focus for up to four hours, and it’s also linked to increased test scores."

Many people simply enjoy connecting with friends and family along their way.

“I heard from one family who completely switched habitual travel from driving to walking, just because they tried it,” Maxwell said. “That is a huge success in my books, teaching this young man to rely on his body’s own power to get places and giving him a great opportunity to learn graduated independence over time.

“By the way, if just nine families changed their habits like this over the school year, they would save close to 1,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the air.”

Trail-blazing: the movement afoot

School travel planning kicks into gear to start the year

News Sep 01, 2017 by Bill Jackson Kitchener Post

The scene around some local elementary schools will be a lot brighter this fall, and not just because of the season change.

Dozens of students at select schools will become volunteer trailblazers — outfitted in bright, neon vests, with a mission of encouraging their peers to walk to school.

The program, which includes a safety training component, will be piloted at 11 schools in the region as part of a new, concerted focus on student travel planning.

Last year, Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region established a dedicated, full-time student travel planner that’s funded by both school boards and the region’s three cities.

“Transportation planning has traditionally focused on busing,” said Leslie Maxwell, who’s been in the role since last September.

Now, some schools are introducing the concept of a walking school bus — a parent-led walking group that works like a traditional school bus.

“Children walk to school under the supervision of one or more adults following a specific route and schedule, offering a good solution for parents of children from JK to Grade 3 who have no older sibling to walk them,” Maxwell explained.

“Some parents who already walk with their children volunteer their time to lead one or two days a week, and catch a break on the other days when other parents lead. In some areas, senior citizens volunteer their time to give more working parents a time break in the morning.”

The initiative being introduced at Sandhills Public School this year is based on a model already employed at Wellesley Public School; it is one of many underway that encourages active transportation.

While there are other movements afoot — “encouragement days,” such as Walking Wednesdays — they don’t always find their way into the organizations of school boards and municipalities, Maxwell noted.

“The problem of traffic in front of school and children not getting enough exercise are problems still shared by a number of stakeholders,” she said.

According to a report to Kitchener council in 2015, increased traffic volume in school zones resulted in complaints from area residents regarding blocked driveways and unsafe street congestion. Bylaw officers were issuing tickets in locations where pickups and drop-offs are prohibited, but enforcement wasn’t addressing the underlying problem.

The main issue boils down to this: many parents are driving their kids to school, when they shouldn’t be.

Convenience, fast-paced lifestyles, safety concerns and “laziness” are all causal factors. “It’s a product of our time,” Maxwell said.

Most students are either eligible for bus service or they’re in a walk zone.

“So, they should be walking or they should be on a bus,” she said. “Plain and simple. Our kids are capable of a lot more than we think they’re capable of and our region is far safer than some parents think it is.

“It’s a good place to walk to school.”

And it’s now Maxwell’s mandate to make it happen.

The responsibility of the school travel planner is to review up to five elementary schools per year in the city of Kitchener, and provide recommendations for various initiatives that encourage walking and cycling. However, anyone with concerns can contact her for advice.

Solutions usually hinge on involvement from schools and surrounding communities.

Maxwell usually assesses each situation with the school’s principal first, and a survey of student travel patterns can ensue before tangible fixes are applied.

In some cases, dedicated committees have been struck. “Both school boards eventually would like to see a travel plan at every school,” Maxwell stated.

This year, walking events are lined up for the first day at Groh and Chicopee Hills public schools — two new schools in the Waterloo Region District School Board that aim to support and encourage active transportation from the outset.

Some schools, such as St. John Paul II Catholic Elementary School, are introducing way-finding signage. Others are using sidewalk paint.

With help of a neighbourhood grant from the city, Wilson Public School will be painting the intersection in front of the school with a unique design. Though the artwork hasn’t yet been finalized, a community paint day is scheduled in October.

But, it will take more than paint and neon vests to make a difference, Maxwell said.

“It takes a lot of messaging from a lot of different places,” she said, adding that many people adopt active lifestyles once they realize benefits.

“Twenty minutes of walking in the morning can increase a child’s focus for up to four hours, and it’s also linked to increased test scores."

Many people simply enjoy connecting with friends and family along their way.

“I heard from one family who completely switched habitual travel from driving to walking, just because they tried it,” Maxwell said. “That is a huge success in my books, teaching this young man to rely on his body’s own power to get places and giving him a great opportunity to learn graduated independence over time.

“By the way, if just nine families changed their habits like this over the school year, they would save close to 1,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the air.”

Trail-blazing: the movement afoot

School travel planning kicks into gear to start the year

News Sep 01, 2017 by Bill Jackson Kitchener Post

The scene around some local elementary schools will be a lot brighter this fall, and not just because of the season change.

Dozens of students at select schools will become volunteer trailblazers — outfitted in bright, neon vests, with a mission of encouraging their peers to walk to school.

The program, which includes a safety training component, will be piloted at 11 schools in the region as part of a new, concerted focus on student travel planning.

Last year, Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region established a dedicated, full-time student travel planner that’s funded by both school boards and the region’s three cities.

“Transportation planning has traditionally focused on busing,” said Leslie Maxwell, who’s been in the role since last September.

Now, some schools are introducing the concept of a walking school bus — a parent-led walking group that works like a traditional school bus.

“Children walk to school under the supervision of one or more adults following a specific route and schedule, offering a good solution for parents of children from JK to Grade 3 who have no older sibling to walk them,” Maxwell explained.

“Some parents who already walk with their children volunteer their time to lead one or two days a week, and catch a break on the other days when other parents lead. In some areas, senior citizens volunteer their time to give more working parents a time break in the morning.”

The initiative being introduced at Sandhills Public School this year is based on a model already employed at Wellesley Public School; it is one of many underway that encourages active transportation.

While there are other movements afoot — “encouragement days,” such as Walking Wednesdays — they don’t always find their way into the organizations of school boards and municipalities, Maxwell noted.

“The problem of traffic in front of school and children not getting enough exercise are problems still shared by a number of stakeholders,” she said.

According to a report to Kitchener council in 2015, increased traffic volume in school zones resulted in complaints from area residents regarding blocked driveways and unsafe street congestion. Bylaw officers were issuing tickets in locations where pickups and drop-offs are prohibited, but enforcement wasn’t addressing the underlying problem.

The main issue boils down to this: many parents are driving their kids to school, when they shouldn’t be.

Convenience, fast-paced lifestyles, safety concerns and “laziness” are all causal factors. “It’s a product of our time,” Maxwell said.

Most students are either eligible for bus service or they’re in a walk zone.

“So, they should be walking or they should be on a bus,” she said. “Plain and simple. Our kids are capable of a lot more than we think they’re capable of and our region is far safer than some parents think it is.

“It’s a good place to walk to school.”

And it’s now Maxwell’s mandate to make it happen.

The responsibility of the school travel planner is to review up to five elementary schools per year in the city of Kitchener, and provide recommendations for various initiatives that encourage walking and cycling. However, anyone with concerns can contact her for advice.

Solutions usually hinge on involvement from schools and surrounding communities.

Maxwell usually assesses each situation with the school’s principal first, and a survey of student travel patterns can ensue before tangible fixes are applied.

In some cases, dedicated committees have been struck. “Both school boards eventually would like to see a travel plan at every school,” Maxwell stated.

This year, walking events are lined up for the first day at Groh and Chicopee Hills public schools — two new schools in the Waterloo Region District School Board that aim to support and encourage active transportation from the outset.

Some schools, such as St. John Paul II Catholic Elementary School, are introducing way-finding signage. Others are using sidewalk paint.

With help of a neighbourhood grant from the city, Wilson Public School will be painting the intersection in front of the school with a unique design. Though the artwork hasn’t yet been finalized, a community paint day is scheduled in October.

But, it will take more than paint and neon vests to make a difference, Maxwell said.

“It takes a lot of messaging from a lot of different places,” she said, adding that many people adopt active lifestyles once they realize benefits.

“Twenty minutes of walking in the morning can increase a child’s focus for up to four hours, and it’s also linked to increased test scores."

Many people simply enjoy connecting with friends and family along their way.

“I heard from one family who completely switched habitual travel from driving to walking, just because they tried it,” Maxwell said. “That is a huge success in my books, teaching this young man to rely on his body’s own power to get places and giving him a great opportunity to learn graduated independence over time.

“By the way, if just nine families changed their habits like this over the school year, they would save close to 1,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the air.”