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Irony takes a stroll on Walk to School Day

Some students must mark Walk to School Day very carefully.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 7, 2007

Clearview principal Karen Russell helps students cross 43rd Street N at lunchtime Wednesday.
[James Borchuck | Times]

The memo from the superintendent's office asked for 100 percent participation. Parents and staffers at Clearview Avenue Elementary wanted to comply.

But as International Walk to School Day approached, they wondered: How can we follow directions if it means putting children at risk?

Bordered on all sides by busy roads, including 38th Avenue N, the school depends on four crossing guards to protect children from morning traffic. And unlike most Pinellas County public schools, Clearview has no safe walk routes from the neighborhood.

Demonstrating pedestrian safety, the purpose of Walk to School Day, struck PTA president Jean Giangrosso as absurd.

"We had decided not to participate," she said. "But we didn't want to be the odd school out."

It seemed especially important to involve the children in the annual event, Giangrosso said, because Clearview is one of four schools the district is considering closing. She knew this could be their last chance.

So principal Karen Russell got in touch with Jean Shoemaker of the Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition, the group coordinating the walk in Pinellas County. Shoemaker spoke to Cheryl Stacks, bike and pedestrian planner for St. Petersburg, and the two came up with a plan.

If the kids couldn't walk before school, maybe they could do a "modified walk" at lunchtime.

"We suggested they skip the walk and just concentrate on the safety lesson," Stacks said.

And so just after 11 a.m. Wednesday, Russell, the principal, stood on the curb at 43rd Street N. A classroom of kindergarteners lined up on the sidewalk in front of her.

"Who remembers what I said on the morning announcements?" she asked.

"Look both ways!" a child answered.

"That's right," Russell said. "Who remembers something else I said?"

"Look and look again!" another child called out.

Russell turned toward the street and demonstrated. "You look left, you look right, and you look left again. Then you step off the curb."

She led several children across the street to a parking lot where their teacher was waiting for them, and then came back for more. Within an hour, Russell and other school staffers had led the school's 446 students across the street and back.

"It's safe on a normal day," Russell said. "But it would have added to the congestion to do this before school."

About half of the district's 82 elementary schools participated in Walk to School Day this year. The national Safe Kids Foundation estimated that 150 local coalitions coordinated walks throughout the country.

Along the routes to school, adults, including police and firefighters who accompanied the children, pointed out unsafe intersections, streets that lack safe sidewalks, and dangerous areas where more than one pedestrian has either been hit or almost injured by a car.

"We think it's really important to get kids thinking about safety," said Stacks, the city's bike and pedestrian planner. "Sometimes when you do that within the school environment, it's more effective."

Tips to live by: What children should know

  • Cross the street at the corner or at a crosswalk if there is one, and obey all traffic signals.
  • Only cross in front of a school bus when the driver says it is safe. Do not cross behind the bus or where the driver can't see you.
  • If a toy or pet goes into the street, ask an adult for help.

Source: Safe Kids Worldwide

Most dangerous metro areas for kids to walk

Area Rank Avg. CHILd pedestrian deaths per year 1999-2003 Total children

14 and under

Memphis, Tenn.-Ark.-Miss. 1 4 270,054 St. Louis, Mo.-Ill. 2 6 566,611 Oklahoma City, Okla. 3 1.8 228,403 San Antonio, Texas 4 2 376,174 Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas 5 7.6 1,136,281 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 6 4 438,834

Source: Safe Kids Worldwide

[Last modified October 6, 2007, 23:17:15]

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