Guest blogger – Kelsey Hamstead
Many of my young school memories involve waking up early to catch the bus to school. I remember being so excited when I no longer needed to ride the bus, but instead I would be able to walk to the school near our house. However, my excitement quickly dwindled when I realized I would have to cross the busy street between my neighborhood and the school. It was a busy and wide street that only had a crossing guard stationed during certain times of the morning. I began dreading the walk to school and frequently begged my parents to drive me the two minutes across the street because I felt unsafe.
Today I attend Brigham Young University, and I still walk to school. I notice many of the same dangers here in Provo as I did back home in Georgia. Things like: lack of or discontinuous sidewalks, wide and busy roads with no crossing guard or lack of a crossing aid. When my Professor announced to my class that we would be assisting the American Heart Association with a project to promote safe routes to school, I was immediately interested.
Our class of about 20 undergraduate students were split into teams and then assigned school districts around Utah Valley. We split up the schools in our districts among our team members in a divide and conquer type of approach. Each of us then set off to the schools to collect data on the relative safety of the walking paths to the schools. One of the schools I visited was Franklin Elementary. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the very busy intersection on the northwest side of the school. I had arrived as school was getting out and there were crowds of kids eager to get home. In talking with the crossing guard stationed at this particular intersection, I discovered that there had been many near accidents. Her suggestion was to have another stop sign put in at the intersection to help the traffic move more smoothly and to keep drivers from speeding by the school.
In talking with moms who had come to the school to walk home with their children, they told me they would love for their kids to be able to walk to and from school on their own, but they felt the roads were too dangerous. However, they wanted their children to continue getting the exercise from walking to and from school so they now walk with their kids in order to ensure their safety. Some other worries included a crosswalk light being out of order at times and the lack of safe sidewalks.
When my team came back together we were surprised to see that we had all gathered very similar data on the same type of problems. Together we constructed a plan and presented our findings at the American Heart Association Lobby Day this past January. Later in April we invited representatives and school board faculty to come and listen to our proposals. As an undergraduate student, alongside the American Heart Association I feel passionate about this topic and we received great feedback from those who came to hear us.
My experience working on this project has taught me that anyone can make a difference.