VALDOSTA — J.L. Newbern Middle School guidance counselor Jennifer Williams was worried when she learned an eighth grade student had walked to school several times.
She’s all for students walking for the health benefits, but she wants them to do so safely and there was no sidewalk near the school, just a narrow shoulder along stretches of East Park Avenue.
That has changed with a newly-constructed sidewalk that will improve pedestrian and bicycle accessibility for students. The Safe Routes to School project is one of five in southwest Georgia that have been completed or are about to be finished. A sixth project may be let later this year.
Students at J.L. Newbern will try out the new sidewalk Friday as they observe Georgia Walk to School Day. Several southwest Georgia schools are also holding events this month that will combine safety education with walking. They’ll hit the school gymnasium, track or nature trail. Some students will use pedometers to track their steps and even parents are invited to walk.
The physical activity and the safety lessons they will learn are important, whether the students attend a city school within walking distance or a rural county school.
“All of our students are transported by bus or car on a daily basis, but our school still wants to place emphasis on walking as a part of a healthy daily routine,” said Jacquelyn White, principal at North Mitchell County Elementary School in Baconton.
Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a federally-funded program that is administered by the Georgia Department of Transportation to help create an environment where children in grades kindergarten through eight can travel to school safely while walking or biking. In the case of J.L. Newbern, the city of Valdosta contributed money to extend the sidewalk beyond the distance proposed in the project.
SRTS has two components. Infrastructure improvements such as building sidewalks and crosswalks are projects that are let and overseen by the Georgia DOT. Education, encouragement and enforcement activities are managed through the GDOT Safe Routes to School Resource Center. For more information on the Center, go to www.SafeRoutesGA.org or call 1-877-436-8927.
Georgia Walk to School Day is sponsored by the SRTS Resource Center. The observance complements International Walk to School Day held each fall.
“Georgia Walk to School Day continues to be a flagship spring event for SRTS. We have so many schools participate year after year and welcome all of the schools participating for the first time,” said Patti Sistrunk, Georgia SRTS Resource Center Manager. “The Resource Center website and School Outreach Coordinators have great materials and tools to make events a success.”
Schools may observe their Walk to School Day throughout the month. A list of area schools that have registered events follows with individual school contact information. For more information, contact Chelsea Carter, SRTS School Outreach Coordinator for southwest Georgia, at 404-387-9579 or by email at chelsea@SafeRoutesGA.org.
Georgia Walk to School Day participants:
North Mitchell County Elementary School
15815 Georgia 93, Baconton
9 a.m.-2:25 p.m.
School contact: Principal Jacquelyn White, 229-336-2118 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Students will wear pedometers to track their steps while walking on the school track. Parents are invited.
J.L. Newbern Middle School
2015 E. Park Ave., Valdosta
School contact: Guidance counselor Jennifer Williams, 229-333-8566 or email@example.com
Students will walk on the new sidewalk, escorted by a School Resource Officer; possible appearance by the mayor.
Pinevale Elementary School
930 Lake Park Road, Valdosta
School contact: Principal Kim Miller, 229-333-8535 or firstname.lastname@example.org
SRTS outreach coordinator will teach National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lessons.
Garrison-Pilcher Elementary School
277 Hall Road, Thomasville
8:10 a.m.-1:55 p.m.
School contact: PE teacher Veletta Reed, 229-225-4387 or email@example.com
Nature hike or walk on school track if weather permits, otherwise students will walk in the gym.
Lanier County Elementary School
92 S. Valdosta Road, Lakeland
School contact: Principal Sena Pike, 229-482-3870 or firstname.lastname@example.org
SRTS outreach coordinator will teach NHTSA lessons.
District Communications Officer
Georgia Department of Transportation