“But our students live far away.”
“Children can’t walk alone down that road.”
“No one will participate.”
“I can’t coordinate a successful event.”
“Safe Routes to School is too much work.”
In my two years as the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the seven southern counties of New Jersey, I have heard all of the possible excuses as to why a school cannot participate in SRTS initiatives. From assuming children would not be interested in walking or biking to school to exaggerating the workload it takes to organize encouragement activities, nothing surprises me at this point. Fortunately for me, when I do get the occasional cynic that is more willing to doubt SRTS than to put a little effort forth, I direct them toward one school.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of pessimism comes Sacred Heart School—a private school located in Mt. Holly. For those unfamiliar with Mt. Holly, it is a densely populated eastern suburb of Philadelphia. Sacred Heart is located along High Street, which serves as a very active commercial corridor. Students that attend the school travel from various surrounding counties in New Jersey. Of course, the school’s location along with the fact that most students are driven causes traffic congestion at student arrival times when parents are in a rush to get to work.
Over a year ago, I met with Principal Carla Chiarelli to discuss how SRTS could relieve traffic congestion issues while creating a safe an active school environment. After our first meeting, it was decided that Sacred Heart would participate in SRTS. At no point was the principal discouraged by the fact that students travel far and wide to attend class or that the school was located in a high traffic area. Nothing was going to stop Principal Chiarelli from organizing walk to school activities in support of the goals of SRTS.
In the month following, a plan was quickly devised. Fairgrounds Plaza, a shopping center located a half mile away was identified as a satellite drop off location to move traffic away from the school at arrival time. A date was set for the faculty and staff of Sacred Heart to meet students at Fairgrounds Plaza and to escort them down High Street to the school. This left one question… how would you get the students to participate? A Golden Sneaker Award was put together using an old tennis shoe and gold spray-paint—this trophy would be given out to the grade that had the most participants on Walk to School Day. The stage was set and the event was a major success!
Currently, Sacred Heart School is a Silver Level Award recipient of the SRTS Recognition Program. They have had numerous Walk to School days and the Golden Sneaker Award has been given out time and time again. The school has beaten the odds and surmounted every obstacle a school can overcome when establishing a sustainable SRTS Program.
Video courtesy of Sacred Heart Elementary
Special thanks to David Calderetti from Cross County Connection TMA for writing this article.