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TUSD pursues funding for sidewalks, safety training
Students at Wakefield Elementary School walk home from school Tuesday afternoon. The Safe Routes to School program could provide additional sidewalks and safety training to elementary schools in the Turlock Unified School District. - photo by MAEGAN MARTENS / The Journal
Students who walk to school in the Turlock Unified School District could soon be a little bit safer, thanks to the Safe Routes to School program.
Turlock is just one of the many California school districts who applied for a grant from the State Network Project to be a part of their three-year Safe Routes to School National Partnership. The program aims to make it safer and easier for children to be physically active by walking and bicycling to school.   
“We are looking at ways to make it safer for our students to walk to school,” said Gil Ogden, director of student services for the TUSD. “We want to continue to enhance better services for our students.”
The grant will provide $1,000 per school site for all elementary schools, junior high schools and middle schools within the TUSD, Ogden said.
If TUSD receives the grant, they plan on using the money to better educate their students on walking safely to school, train the crossing guards for each school and create maps for the safest routes for each school, he said. The money will also go to buy new vests for the crossing guards.
Ogden is hoping to work with the parents at each school to survey them and find the unsafe areas to prevent students from walking on those paths, he said. TUSD also hopes to work with the Turlock Police Department as well to help organize the safe routes map. The map will lay out the preferred walking paths for the students to take on their way to and from school.
The biggest need for the schools right now is training the students on how to walk safely to school, Ogden said.
“There will always be danger walking to school even if there are sidewalks,” he said. “We want our students to pick the safest route to school.”
Schools in the most need, especially for sidewalks, are Cunningham Elementary School and Wakefield Elementary School, Ogden said.
“Safe routes to school are important, especially sidewalks, during the winter time and the fog rolls in heavy,” he said. “Cars have trouble seeing the students.”
The Safe Routes to Schools started in 2007 to increase the amount of physical activity a child does just by walking or bicycling to school, according to the Safe Routes to School State Network Project: Final Report, 2007-2009, Making Change through Partners and Policies.
It all started with the fact that in 1969 about 42 percent of children in the United States walked or bicycled to school compared to the 16 percent of children in the United States that walked or bicycled to school in 2001, according to the final report.  
The report concluded that parents’ safety concerns about traffic dangers and personal safety have led them to limit their child walking or bicycling to school. The childhood obesity rate has more than tripled among the ages of six to 19 over the past 40 years and about 33 percent of children in the United States are overweight or obese, statistics that the State Network Project hopes to change for the better.
The SRTS in California is working with the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan to create safe pedestrian and bicycle paths along with safe routes to school for children.
The Federal Safe Routes to School program provided about $612 million in the past four years that is awarded to state departments of transportation to help allow schools to build sidewalks, bicycle lanes, safe crossings and pathways.   
SRTS has been working with nine states in the United States along with the District of Columbia to help with safe routes for students to walk to school. They are working on extending the SRTS to 15 states within the near future, according to the final report.
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.