Area schools look at Safe Routes
By SARAH HINCKLEY Herald Staff | January 19,2008
It was surprising to most people in the Fox Room of the Rutland Free Library on Friday that Rutland County has the highest percentage of overweight children in Vermont.
Jon Kaplan, the Safe Routes to School coordinator with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, was in town to provide information about the federally funded program. Representatives from at least 10 Rutland County communities, most affiliated with an area school, attended.
The session was to provide information in time for this second round of applications for program funding, which is open until March. There is $250,000 available and $10,000 is the cap amount for which each individual school or local organization associated with a school or schools can qualify.
Safe Routes to School is a federally funded program that is coordinated at the state level. It was part of a $612 million, five-year initiative by the U.S. Department of Transportation to get states to find safe routes on which children can walk and bike to school.
The money is divvied up to states based on student enrollment, which leaves Vermont low in priority and receiving the minimum amount of $1 million, according to Kaplan. The first infrastructure funding phase, allocated in summer 2007, had $1.5 million in funds.
There are approximately 30 programs in place in Vermont from the first two-year funding phase, including Fair Haven Grade School and Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden.
"We're still educating (with) feasibility study money," said Carolyn Schwalbe, the representative for Barstow Memorial School. "We still need a lot of work on that, (that is) why I'm looking to apply again."
The group watched a short film highlighting the reasons for initiating the program ó increasing obesity rates, sedentary children and the positive results of increased physical activity. The film also showed ways in which implementing a program can aid in cutting down traffic congestion, increased the sense of community and improved air quality around schools. Some of the challenges highlighted in Vermont in establishing a Safe Routes to School program in a community are poor infrastructure that is not conducive to biking and walking, little municipal help and lack of law enforcement.
Four E-words are the focus of funding for this phase of the Safe Routes to School application: education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation. A number of Vermont agencies are participating in the Safe Routes to School program to integrate a number of community aspects, like the Department of Health, Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Community Affairs among them.
"You wouldn't typically see all these agencies involved in a SRTS program," said Kaplan, noting there will be another application phase in 2009. "We're going beyond 2009 until all of that money has a place to go."
Application requirements are different for this phase, as a result of lessons learned during the first phase. Wanda Rider, the nurse at Proctor Elementary, had lots of questions about qualifying for funding that is not designated for infrastructure. After Kaplan's presentation Rider was speaking with Ceil Hunt, of Fair Haven Grade School, who has experience with the program.
"It's all happening very quickly," said Rider, who had pitched the idea to the Proctor Elementary School PTO earlier in the week. "I'm trying to learn about the program (and) do the application."
For more information about Safe Routes to School go to www.saferoutesinfo.org or call 1-866-610-7787. To find out more about the Vermont program and print an application go to www.aol.state.vt.us and click onto Safe Routes to School Program under the VTrans Spotlight.
Contact Sarah Hinckley at firstname.lastname@example.org.