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South St. Paul receives Safe Routes to School grant to improve walking and biking paths for area students

 

students sitting on their bikes Friday, June 14, 2019 — South St. Paul Public Schools (SSPPS) students walking and biking to school next year will have some extra support to help make that journey safer thanks to a $98,600 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) Safe Routes to School program (SRTS). SSPPS is one of six school districts awarded the SRTS grant this year, out of a total application pool of 12 districts.

Safe Routes to School is an international program to increase physical activity, improve health and reduce traffic congestion around schools by making it safer and easier for students to walk and bicycle to school.

“Increasing the safety of children walking and biking not only improves health, but school attendance and academic achievement as well,” said Dave Cowan, MnDOT Safe Routes coordinator. ”Many school districts have a strong desire to support Safe Routes strategies, but limited staff time and resources are challenges. A local coordinator can transform school culture around walking and biking, ensuring more students arrive to school focused and ready to learn.”

Such is the case for SSPPS, which will use the grant to hire a part-time district coordinator for the next three years who will work with school staff to implement the district’s SRTS plan, developed in 2018. The plan articulates activities in key focus areas (education, engagement, enforcement and engineering) that align with the district’s vision to make walking and biking to and around school a safe, comfortable, and fun activity for all students and families. This vision is included in each of the school district’s SRTS plans and includes a focus on equity considerations to ensure that walking and biking to school is safe, comfortable, and convenient for every student, regardless of identity or ability.

“We are thrilled that this grant will help us expand on recent safety efforts and encourage more participation of students walking and biking to school,” said Connie Garling Squire, director of equity and early learning, and district facilitator of the grant application. “As a district, we are always looking for partners and opportunities that help us remove barriers and provide support to our students’ and families’ needs so that they can focus on learning. The SRTS grant is just one more way we can build on these efforts and help improve student health.”

Garling-Squire noted the plan will strengthen existing programs, such as parent/school communication, student safety patrols, and the summer safety fair, as well as help implement new programs designed to increase walking and biking participation and safety, such as a bicycle rodeo, safety campaign, and walking school buses. In addition, the district plans to engage the larger South St. Paul community in efforts to increase safety, including a community-wide safety campaign, automated speed enforcement around Kaposia Education Center, and infrastructure improvements completed by the City, County, and school district to improve walking and biking pathways.

While SRTS activities involve a variety of district, city and community staff, the MnDOT grant funding will focus on the hiring of a district coordinator for the program who will be responsible for building relationships throughout the community, planning and leading SRTS initiatives, and bringing visibility to and advocating for the goals and visions of the district’s SRTS program.

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Since 2005, MnDOT awarded more than $38 million in federal and state funds to communities to support Safe Routes to School. The majority of funding was awarded for infrastructure projects. The remainder was allocated for programs and planning that promote walkable and bikeable communities. Additional information on Safe Routes to School is available at mndot.gov/saferoutes.