International Walk to School Day was observed throughout the United States last Wednesday, Oct. 5.
Locally, Lawrence Township Public Schools teamed up with St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center and FedEx to hold a “Safe Kids Walk This Way” program at Lawrence Intermediate School.
The goal of the program was to educate children, parents and teachers about pedestrian safety – how to walk safely to and from school and how to assess walking conditions around school to identify potential hazards.
National statistics are frightening and show why such a program is so important.
Pedestrian accidents are the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children aged 5 to 14.
Each year in the United States, over 630 children aged 14 and under die from pedestrian-related injuries. In 2004 alone, more than 35,600 children in that same age range were treated in hospital emergency rooms for pedestrian-related injuries.
Experts say children are particularly vulnerable to pedestrian death “because they are exposed to traffic threats that exceed their cognitive developmental, behavioral, physical and sensory abilities.”
During the “Walk This Way” program, parents, teachers, school administrators, police officers, Councilwoman Pam Mount, Councilman Michael Powers, Mercer County Freeholder Pat Colavita, Boomer the Trenton Thunder mascot and others accompanied fourth-graders as they walked the neighborhood around LIS.
Each student was given a “walkability checklist” to help identify both safe and hazardous conditions. Questions on the list included:
- Did you have enough room to walk safely?
- Was it easy to cross the streets?
- Did the drivers behave well?
- Was your walk pleasant?
The students were asked to identify potential problems along their routes. Shannon Perrochino’s class identified several problems along their route: litter, overgrown shrubs, leaves, cracks in the sidewalk, gum on the ground, cigarettes and asphalt on the sidewalks.
One student, Jared, detailed what he saw. “The sidewalk was up. Someone could trip on it. The curb was over top of the sidewalk in places. The trees overhang onto to the sidewalk – you had to bend to get under them,” he said.
Some of the problems the students noted would be easy for the township and residents to fix. With such improvements, more students might choose to walk to school. LIS Principal Dave Adam said about 100 students walk to the school on a given day. Of course, he said, that number varies based on weather and the time of year.
Two FedEx trucks were used to demonstrate truck safety for the students. First, Fed Ex employees Rob Hillermeier and Art Murphy spoke about using the three points of access when entering and leaving a truck – “both feet on the ground, and one hand on the handle.”
Next, students were asked to stand in front of the trucks while their classmates took turns sitting in the drivers’ seats. The exercise helped show students how a driver “really cannot see little kids” when they step out in front of such a large vehicle.
Students will present the results of their “walkability checklists” at future Lawrence Township Council and township school board meetings.
Founded in 1994 in Great Britain, International Walk to School Day was formed with the goal of creating a more “walkable world.” St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center, the lead organization of the Mercer County Chapter of Safe Kids New Jersey has been sponsoring the “Walk This Way” program in the Lawrence Township public schools since 2003.