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Zeh and Proctor Schools Celebrate With Massachusetts Safe Routes

Two Northborough schools are among the 500 partners in the MassDOT's Safe Routes Program.

Information courtesy of MassDOT

The Zeh School and Proctor School are among the now 500 schools partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School Program.

MassDOT announced last week that the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School Program has passed a historic milestone – the enrollment of its 500th Safe Routes Partner School.

This program, which is delivered by MassDOT using federal funding, is the first statewide Safe Routes to School Program to achieve this level of active participation.

“MassDOT is excited to recognize Massachusetts as the first state to recruit 500 Safe Routes to School Partners," said MassDOT Highway Administrator Frank DePaola. "This achievement is a testament to the Commonwealth’s unique Safe Routes to School program structure, the efforts of program staff, and the commitment of our communities to make walking and bicycling safer and more widely used travel modes for our school children.” 

With the enrollment of the 500th Safe Routes to School Partner, approximately 230,000 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade in 147 communities across the Commonwealth now benefit from Massachusetts Safe Routes to School pedestrian safety initiatives and outreach education services. Cresting the 500th Partner School mark was the city of Woburn, which enrolled all ten of its elementary and middle schools with a combined student population of 3,351 students.

As part of the Safe Routes Program, Zeh is considered a "Walk and Bike to School Community." The school hosts one event per month, with the intention of encouraging students to walk or bike to school on other days, as well. Typical, said Principal Susan Whitten, roughly half of the the students participate.

"Two weeks ago, 137 students out of 310 walked or biked to school," said Whitten "Our next event is scheduled for Oct. 31. We have a number of parents who are helping with this, which keeps it going. We have a core group of fourth graders who are riding to school on a regular basis at this point in time, as well as a few who now walk to school each day. Zeh loves it!"

The Massachusetts Safe Routes to School Program, which is managed on behalf of MassDOT by MassRIDES, the Commonwealth’s travel options program, distinguishes itself from other state’s efforts by providing a central source of Safe Routes services to all interested schools in Massachusetts. Partner schools receive year-round pedestrian and bicycle safety education instruction, engagement initiatives tailored to meet each school’s physical fitness, safety and environmental priorities; partner schools are also eligible to receive infrastructure improvements that enable enhanced student accessibility and safety.  

MassRIDES’ Safe Routes to School model of inclusiveness emphasizes a collaborative, community-focused approach that fosters collaborative partnerships between advocacy groups, law enforcement, education leaders and public health departments. This broad foundation of resources embeds the Safe Routes to School Program into the culture of every participating community. This model has paid dividends in Massachusetts, where the Safe Routes program is reaching 35 percent of students in kindergarten through 8th grade. In contrast, Safe Routes to School programs serve only 12 percent of students nationally. Through the implementation of Safe Routes to School’s, Five E’s – Education,  Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation and Engineering – partner schools and community stakeholders are taking an active role in improving children’s mental and physical health.

These efforts will also support the reduction of traffic congestion, improve air quality near schools and foster the continued growth of safe and sustainable communities. In 2000, Massachusetts implemented one of two Safe Routes to School pilot programs in the United States. With federal funds established through the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), the initiative was launched statewide in 2006, under the leadership of MassRIDES.

The Safe Routes to School Program is a key component of the Healthy Transportation Compact, an initiative of the Patrick-Murray Administration's historic transportation reform measure. In 1969, 48 percent of American students walked or bicycled to school, but as of 2009, only 13 percent of children walk or bicycle to class. Within the same era, childhood obesity rates have almost tripled. According to the Center for Disease Control, 19 percent of children ages 6-11 nationwide are overweight. Based upon The Status of Childhood Weight report conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 34.3 percent of Massachusetts children ages 6 - 11 are overweight or obese. One of the goals of the Safe Routes to School Program is to promote walking and bicycling as a physically active, safe and sustainable transportation option for children and families. Despite reaching the milestone of 500 partner schools, MassDOT and MassRIDES are determined to continue expanding the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School program throughout the Commonwealth.

“The Safe Routes to School Team is committed to continuously evaluating and expanding programs by offering new opportunities for involvement by students, creating customizable program materials for schools, and establishing strong community partnerships across the Commonwealth,” said Samantha Fonseca-Moreira, the Massachusetts Safe Routes to school statewide coordinator. In commemoration of achieving the 500th partner school, MassRIDES is working jointly with all its partner schools to coordinate thematic activities that reinforce pedestrian safety and public health initiatives. 

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