Former Dolbeare Walking School Bus Coordinator
This sign is one of many safety and accessibility improvements students will find when they return to the Dolbeare Elementary School in the fall. These improvements were made to help make walking and biking to school more appealing to students.
New sidewalks are part of the Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Construction Project to improve safety and accessibility at the Dolbeare. Designers made sure this tree was preserved in the process.
Robert Barone, President of the construction company P.V. Barone Corporation, says construction at the Dolbeare is coming along nicely in preparation for the start of the new school year.
The six years following that fateful WCAP meeting included school, parent and community partnerships, enjoyable daily walks, biannual walk and bike to school celebrations and exciting national news coverage.
The adventure began at the Dolbeare Elementary School. The Dolbeare partnered with MassRIDES, along with the Wakefield School Health Leadership Team and WCAP to pilot a SRTS program beginning in the fall of 2008. The program is very flexible and schools can pick and choose what to do. The Dolbeare decided to go all out, and their program included biannual walk and bike to school celebrations (International Walk to School Day in the fall and Mass. Walk & Bike to School Day in the spring) plus a Walking School Bus. A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults, following a fixed route and stopping to pick up students at set times along the way. It’s like a carpool—without the car.
The Dolbeare Walking School Bus ran (walked) daily, rain or shine, except during the winter. Every day brought a new experience the children would never have by driving to school; perhaps small, but nonetheless special. One day there was street construction to examine. Other days brought a yucky dead frog, a rooster crowing loudly or a neighbor’s giant fluffy dog. There were beautiful garden flowers to appreciate. Sometimes the children enjoyed rain on their umbrellas with puddles to jump. Later in the season there was colorful foliage to admire along with piles of leaves to crunch. Most days friends and neighbors talked and laughed. Some days were more quiet and peaceful. Whatever the day brought, a walk was always a nice way to start the morning.
The biannual walk and bike to school celebrations brought out hundreds of students, parents, babies, pet dogs and top supporter Nibbles the Guinea Pig. Special guest walkers such as the Superintendent, Principal, PE teacher, School Committee members and Police Department members came along to show their support. Teachers cheered on the students with pom-poms and awarded small prizes for walking. The class with the most participants won the “Golden Sneaker Award.”
In 2009, the successful program was featured in the Boston Globe, Fox 25 News, and Good Morning America. Each time the news crews showed up to film a walk to school celebration, just about the entire school turned out for the event. It was great fun.
Over the years the SRTS program spread to the three other elementary schools in town plus the Galvin Middle School. In 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) awarded the Dolbeare a no-cost, detailed Infrastructure Assessment of walking and bicycling routes within a mile of the school and placed the Dolbeare on a waiting list (called TIP—Transportation Improvement Program) for construction.
Four years later, construction to improve infrastructure at the Dolbeare is now well underway. Per the MassDOT website, improvements include the construction of sidewalks at locations surrounding the Dolbeare, a pedestrian flasher assembly in front of the school, pedestrian countdown signals at the Lowell St./Vernon St. intersection, reconstruction of the nearby Shell gas station driveways to reduce the length of pedestrian crossings, installation of bike racks, better defined curb cuts, and construction of sidewalk connections between Lowell St. and Vernon St. and the school entrances.
Currently the construction contract value is $442,063. Robert Barone, President of the construction company P.V. Barone Corporation, says construction is coming along nicely in preparation for the start of the new school year.
Hopefully when school starts up again students and parents alike will take advantage of the safety and accessibility improvements and walk or bike to school, and the biannual celebrations will continue. When they do, everyone can enjoy an energizing start to the day, better focus in school, socializing with friends and neighbors, saving money on gas, avoiding traffic jams and helping the environment—all at once!
For further information on Safe Routes to School, visit http://www.commute.com/schools.