by Dennis Dalman
Making sure all students who walk or bike to school can stay safe is a high priority of both the City of Sartell and the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.
At the March 17 school-board meeting, Dawn Moen presented an update to the board about latest efforts to initiate a “Safe Routes to School” plan. Moen is a program specialist with CentraCare’s BLEND program. BLEND, which stands for “Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily,” promotes all aspects of wellness in central Minnesota and beyond, including the national Safe Routes to School concept.
Decades ago, even some years ago, it was common for children to walk or bike to and from school, but those numbers have been declining in the past decade or so, Moen noted. There are many reasons, some inter-related, for the decline: fewer sidewalks, students living further distances from their schools, nasty weather, dangers from busy traffic, fear of crime or of being abducted.
At local schools, Moen noted, about 20 to 25 percent of motor traffic at or around school buildings is due to parents dropping their children off at schools.
There are concerns nowadays about children not getting enough exercise. Walking or biking to and from school – at least when the weather is decent – could go a long way in children getting the exercise they need, Moen noted. Less physical activity in the long run can lead to diabetes, obesity, lowered self-esteem and other adverse physical and emotional effects, she added.
Moen said the school district and the City of Sartell are both committed to the Safe Routes to School concept. The city, for example, has applied for a $500,000 grant to help construct sidewalks all along 2nd Street S. in the city, a key road that leads to schools to the north. There is a plan to expand training for crossing guards at school crossings. The school is working with the city to create pedestrian maps for all paths near or around local schools.
One key part of the Safe Routes to School concept is to have ongoing safety-education programs for children and parents. The annual Sartell Bike Rodeo held in the parking lot of Sartell City Hall is one such program. The next one will take place from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, May 3 at city hall. The session is free and all children are welcome to take part in it.
The city has also been doing studies about how motor traffic affects pedestrian and biking areas.
BLEND is also pushing for many initiatives for Safe Routes to School developments in the greater St. Cloud area, including Sartell.
The school board agreed to help the city complete a street policy in order to assist with obtaining government funding for further development of Safe Routes to School.