Groups collaborate to help students be active and ready to learn

Creating opportunities for New Orleans students to be physically active around their schools was the focus of the KidsWalk Coalition’s Breakfast Roundtable in July.

The gathering – titled Active and Ready to Learn – drew more than 35 school personnel, transportation engineers and planners, physical activity advocates, youth-based organizations and education researchers.

The meeting’s focus – on transportation’s role in the health and academic readiness of students – led to discussions about how schools can tap into existing resources and create partnerships to incorporate physical activity into regular transportation trips.

“Children who walk to and from school most days of the week are more likely to have higher levels of physical activity,” said Kathryn Parker-Karst, director of KidsWalk Coalition at the Tulane Prevention Research Center. Higher levels of physical fitness are linked to better academic performance, she said.

But, as many attendees noted, students face challenges if they try to walk or bike to school. Some students have to take public transportation, running into problems when buses are delayed or law enforcement accuses them of truancy.

One of the roots of the issue is that educational reforms in the past several years have led to open enrollment. Among other effects, this has resulted in many students ending up at schools outside their neighborhoods. And that means longer commutes for students. Before Hurricane Katrina, about 50 percent of students lived within one mile of their school. After Katrina, that number dropped to about 22 percent, said Debra Vaughan, director of research at Tulane’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives. Vaughan said the Cowen Institute, which co-sponsored the Breakfast Roundtable, wants to continue looking into how long commutes impact student behavior and other issues.

One way schools can improve their students’ physical activity levels is through the Safe Routes to School grants program. Safe Routes to School provides up to $250,000 for improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, signage, and traffic signals and other pedestrian infrastructure, and up to $50,000 for biking and walking safety education, encouragement and enforcement programs.

“Safe walking and biking are things kids don’t automatically know anymore. We need to teach them,” said Shalanda Cole, Safe Routes to School coordinator at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Audubon Charter School’s grant will include a “walking school bus” to take adult-supervised students to and from parks near the school, said the school’s development special Sofia Griffies. Some teachers will become certified bike-safety instructors under the grant, Griffies added. The grant will also help improve the parking and intersections around the schools.

Cyndi Nguyen, executive director of Vietnamese Initiatives for Economic Training, said her organization decided to work with Einstein Charter on a Safe Routes to School grant because she saw children weren’t able to play outside in the Michoud community and parents were afraid of their children walking to school.

The grant also links schools to transportation officials so that any work to sidewalks, streets and signs around schools is coordinated with the New Orleans Department of Public Works. The department is a resource for grantee schools, giving guidance on how to make changes to streets and sidewalks and possibly leverage grant money with other road work money, said Col. Mark Jernigan, director of Public Works.

The event was hosted at local business incubator Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation. The event was made possible thanks to generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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New Orleans schools awarded more than $500,000 to create Safe Routes to School

The KidsWalk Coalition is excited to announce that in May, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development awarded nearly $600,000 to New Orleans schools for projects aimed at improving pedestrian safety. These projects, which are provided through the Safe Routes to School program, will bring upgraded sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic signals to Einstein Charter School and Audubon Charter School’s campuses.

Funded by the federal Department of Transportation, the Safe Routes to School program seeks to improve the health of kids and communities by making walking and bicycling to school safer, easier and more enjoyable. This year, the KidsWalk Coalition coordinated three joint applications between the City of New Orleans and New Orleans schools.

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Area near Einstein Charter School where sidewalk will be built

In addition to providing up to $250,000 for improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, signage, traffic signals and other pedestrian infrastructure, Safe Routes to School offers up to $50,000 for education, encouragement, and enforcement programs. This year, the state awarded Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training (VIET) with funds to improve pedestrian safety in the Michoud and Village de l’Est neighborhoods and organize programs for students at Einstein Charter School. Audubon Charter School received funding for similar uses, such as a Walking School Bus, at its two campuses in Black Pearl.

The KidsWalk Coalition looks forward to working with these schools as the Safe Routes to School projects unfold, and sharing the excitement of the communities that will benefit from these improvements.

New grants available to schools for health and wellness

Calling all school leaders, teachers, parents and volunteers: Looking to improve the health of students at your school? Check out these new opportunities to get the resources you need:

New Orleans celebrates International Walk to School Day

On October 5, four New Orleans schools marked International School Day by holding walk to school events, demonstrating the health and wellness benefits of getting an active start to a student’s day.  The Tulane Prevention Research Center teamed up with Coalition partner the Louisiana Safe Routes to School State Network to help programs organize and publicize some of these events. Below are photos from the event held at ARISE Academy in the Upper 9th Ward – which organizes Safe Routes to School programs with the support of a federal Safe Routes to School grant.

Siblings Darriella, 6, and Derrick, 7, lead a walking group on Pauline Street to ARISE Academy for International Walk to School Day Wednesday morning. Others in the group, from left to right, included ARISE Principal Andrew Schahan, second-grade teacher Kathleen Stevens, New Orleans Health Commissioner Karen DeSalvo and State Police Trooper Mark Jackson.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation will again offer up to $300,000 in reimbursable grants for infrastructure and non-infrastructure in 2012. Contact us at kidswalk@tulane.edu or 504-988-7778 to learn more about how we can help your school or community organization take advantage of this opportunity.

State Police Senior Trooper Mark Jackson, center, helps walkers cross N. Rampart Street on their way to ARISE Academy for International Walk to School Day

Fuel up to Play 60 offers new round of $4k grants to schools

New Orleans schools, listen up! Fuel Up to Play 60 – a national program of the NFL and National Dairy Council – is offering a new round of $4,000 grants to schools to start health programs. These funds can support:

  • Student awareness of the importance of healthy eating and increased physical activity;
  • Student access to and consumption of nutrient-rich foods, including low-fat and fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and
  • Student opportunities for and participation in physical activity in school
The next round of applications are due December 1. Visit the website to learn more about the program and about how your school can apply.

Fuel Up to Play 60 offers grant funding to local schools

Schools take note: funding is available to K-12 schools enrolled in the Fuel Up to Play 60 Program. The competitive, nationwide funding program aims to help schools jumpstart and sustain healthy nutrition and physical activity improvements. Schools can use funds to conduct in-school promotions focused on creating a healthier school and to implement Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Days. Funds can also be used for professionaldevelopment, nutrition education materials, and physical education equipment and materials. There will be several application deadlines, and the next deadline is June 15, 2011.

Click here for more information and to apply.

E.P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy awarded 2011 Safe Routes to School Grant!

Congratulations to the the E.P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, which this week was awarded a Safe Routes to School grant by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD). Harney was one of nine schools statewide to win the award, among a field of 20 applications. The application was submitted as a joint effort by the school and KidsWalk Coalition members and community organizations, including the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University, Louisiana Public Health Institute, International Project for Nonprofit Leadership at the University of New Orleans, New Orleans Police Department and Central City Partnership.

Proposed infrastructure improvements

Through the Safe Routes to School program, Harney aims to be the driving force of walking and bicycling in the Central City community. Its proposal calls for $250,000 in infrastructure improvements at locations that have the highest potential for making walking and bicycling to and from the Harney campus safer and more enjoyable for students and residents. These improvements focus on making South Claiborne Avenue safer to cross and ensuring safe routes to key sites in the Central City neighborhood, including affordable housing developments and the Mahalia Jackson Community Center. The grant also includes $35,000 for educational programming.

Since 2005, DOTD has awarded the federal, reimbursable grants on a competitive basis to elementary and middle schools. Harney is the fourth New Orleans school to obtain the grant, joining Esperanza Charter School, International School of Louisiana and Drew Elementary School.