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Safe Routes to School Celebrates 10 Years at U of I

January 30, 2019

The Safe Routes to School program at the University of Idaho, which helps encourage walking, biking and other physical activity, is marking 10 years in 2019.

The group’s next event is the Polar Walk on Wednesday, Feb. 6, which includes hot chocolate for elementary and middle school participants. Elementary and middle school students, with the help of 50-80 U of I students, staff and other volunteers, will walk to school and participate in morning activities designed to help the young students get to their classes safely.

“It’s teaching them a real-life skill, how to get yourself to and from school,” said Erin Bacon, U of I’s Safe Routes to School program coordinator. “It gives them responsibility and accountability.”

Part of a national program, U of I’s Safe Routes to School partnered with the city of Moscow and the Moscow School District after Clinical Associate Professor Helen Brown in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences received a grant for the project in 2009.

Bacon said the mission of Safe Routes to School is to educate and encourage physical activity as well as change the perception that walking and biking to school is inconvenient or unsafe. Walking or biking to school can also help the environment and reduce congestion around the schools, she said.

The program utilizes efforts like parent-led walking school buses — designated supervised drop-off and pick-up points — both on the designated Safe Routes to School days and throughout the school year.  In addition to the Polar Walk, Safe Routes to School coordinates International Walk to School Day each October and a bike-to-school event called Fill the Racks each May.

Bacon estimates that with the help of an army of U of I student volunteers, student-athletes and others, participation among Moscow School District students for the walk-to-school events has increased from about 50 percent to 70-80 percent over the past decade.

“We have athletes that come back time and time again,” Bacon said. “That really means a lot to the children because they look at those athletes as celebrities and role models.”

The routes have also become safer over the 10 years since the program’s inception. Bacon said sidewalks surrounding Mountain View and McDonald elementary schools have been added by the city of Moscow, among other improvements.

“The city has made completed sidewalks an incredibly high priority,” Bacon said. “They always include a sidewalk and when possible a bike facility. That’s really a huge shift from the way things were done more than a decade ago. It’s great to see the city in support of multi-model transportation and to see schools zones as such a high priority.”

Participating schools include Lena Whitmore, McDonald, West Park, Russell, Moscow Charter, Palouse Prairie, St. Mary’s elementary schools and Moscow Middle School.

U of I students, staff or faculty interested in volunteering for the Polar Walk or other programs can contact Bacon at ebacon@uidaho.edu.

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at uidaho.edu