FRANKLIN — Bill Feaney of Trans Options Corp. met with the Franklin Board of Education recently to introduce the Safe Routes to School program, which is run through Rutgers University.
Feeney described that the New Jersey Department of Transportation has partnered with Trans Options to administer a new statewide education and encouragement program. In addition, Trans Options advocates for and implements programs that make walking and bicycling around the neighborhoods and schools fun, easy, safe and healthy for all students and families, Feeney said. He said Safe Routes to School initiatives also helps ease traffic jams and reduce air pollution, reduce reliance on cars, unite neighborhoods and contribute to student’s readiness to learn in school.
Trans Options is a Transportation Management Association that covers Northwestern New Jersey. Safe Routes to School is a nationally funded program, which sends the money to the state. The state gives its to Safe Routes to School and the Safe Routes to School distributes it to the Transportation Management Association. The money is used to run different programs and encourage kids to walk and bike to school. Feeney explained the reason these programs are being implemented is because studies show in the 1980s, there wasn’t as much obesity as there is now. As time has gone by the obesity epidemic has gotten worse, explained Feeney. He also told the Board of Education that by 2000 the obesity percentage was around 29 percent of the country. Feeney explained that by 2005 to 2010 the numbers for obesity in the United States was over 30 percent.
Feeney also said studies show that students learn more when they are active and there is a decrease in discipline issues. Feeney said the students do better on standardized testing because of the increase in activity. Feeney also pointed out that the Routes to School program has been implemented nationally. In addition, Feeney said since this program has begun, the obesity epidemic has decreased. New Jersey is one of the states where the Safe Routes to School has taken off.
Feeney explained that Safe Routes to School focuses on evaluation. It entails arranging a school travel plan where parents, teachers, students and volunteers all get together and take a snap shot of the school. The goal of this is to explore the danger areas: how many students are walking, where the danger areas are around the school and where it is safe to walk and where it is unsafe to walk.
School board President Rick Kell asked Feeney how he would gget parents to allow their kids to walk to school.
Feeney said that there are a lot of parents that are persuaded by their children to walk to school with them.
The travel plan includes maps, walking guards, intersections, bike racks and all other facilities needed, and a travel tally and two days of the students going to school by volunteering,
He explained that there are maps produced by the Trans Options Company. They are outside billboard tarps. Kids are separated into different modes. Some students represent cars, some are bikes, and some are pedestrians. Different prompts are given to the students such as paper plates and paper towel rolls. The students are switched around to the different modes of travel, and Feeney told the Board of Education that the reasoning is to teach the students the importance of using hand signals, why they need to use blinkers, why we want them to pay attention to all the different rules of each mode of travel has to adhere by. Feeney said that they also have walk to school days that Trans Options Company can help and organize for Franklin School if they are interested. There are a few types of walk to school days. There is a walk to school bus where everyone meets up at a certain location and different locations and then walks to school together along with the help of volunteers.
Feeney told the Board of Education that Trans Options would show up at school and hand out giveaways to encourage them and then follow up with a poster contest. The champion teacher in each school district receives a $100 gift card.
This Safe Routes to School program qualifies Franklin School for grant funding from the state. It is a reimbursement program. The school has to pay for the project it is going to work on and in addition a travel plan is necessary in order to receive the grant, Feeney said.