Yantacaw Walks celebrated the conclusion of our inaugural program at the end of the 2013-2014 school year with thank-you coffee for our parents, teachers, and school staff (courtesy of our local Starbucks!). We also had an exciting closing ceremony in which we announced the winning class in each grade K-6 and awarded the Golden Sneaker to the class with the most walks overall during our 7-week Classroom Challenge.
The ceremony was attended by all of our students and teachers, our Principal, Superintendent, and Commissioner of Public Affairs as well as Health Department staff, including the department mascot Bernie the Dog.
The winning class—Mrs. Napolitano’s 4th Grade—was thrilled to receive their award, which we consider nothing less than the Stanley Cup of walking to school. Even though there’s only one award, we’re incredibly proud of all of the classes who won in their grade, not to mention every student and family who participated in Yantacaw Walks.
When school resumes in September 2014, we’ll begin another 7-week Classroom Challenge, and hope to get both pledge renewals and new pledges. Our goal is to meet or exceed our 2013-2014 pledge rate of 250 students, which represents more than half of our student population of about 450 students.
During June, we also conducted an online parent survey (with the option to complete on paper, which no one did), and received 180 responses. The purpose of the survey was to measure changes in walking habits since program inception, reveal barriers to walking, and gather open-ended feedback.
Here are highlights of survey results:
1. More children walked to/from school and did so more often than they did before Yantacaw Walks began.
2. Among those who didn’t walk to/from school at all, some of the top reasons included lack of time, distance to school, and a variety of route safety concerns. Parents identified specific intersections and routes where they felt safety improvements were needed.
3. General open-ended feedback on Yantacaw Walks was overwhelmingly positive, such as:
“Yantacaw walks is a super effort that reminds us how well planned out Nutley is as a city. Every elementary school is within easy walking distance and I think we needed something like this program to get us parents to redefine our morning routines.”
“This is a great idea. It is much easier to convince my child to walk to school since this started. Plus there is a lot less vehicle traffic on our street.”
“I noticed more parents walking with their kids to school than in past years. I think the program was a good catalyst for healthier walking habits.”
“My son is so motivated to walk in the morning despite the weather. In fact, last week, we walked in a rain storm and get soaked. You know what we realized? It was so fun! We stomped in puddles and had giggles. Something you cannot discover while driving in a car. While we walked most of the 2013/2014 year, it was great to see the noticeable difference of so many children walking since this program started. I really hope it this program is continued through 2014/2015 school year and beyond.”
4. Feedback on the intersection where a new crossing guard had been placed (on a trial basis using Yantacaw Walks grant money) was overwhelmingly positive, such as:
“As long as the crossing guard remains at the Washington Avenue crosswalk, my children will continue to walk to/from school every day.”
“This is a well-done program and the crossing guard at Washington Ave & Cambridge Heights is greatly appreciated! We’re limited by the time that walking requires from me as a parent since we don’t want our kindergartner walking alone, I’m thinking about partnering with other parents for supervision. Also, the Facebook updates have been great for keeping the idea in the front of my mind.”
“The crossing guard on Washington Avenue has been an integral part of why many kids will now walk to school – the street traffic is heavy and unfortunately, drivers do not always yield to pedestrians. As a parent of 3 children (with 2 going to Yantacaw in 2014-2015), I hope a permanent crossing guard will be assigned so we can continue to do so. Lastly, I have noticed a decrease in the traffic around school thanks to more walkers both in the mornings and afternoons.”
5. Parents provided a lot of concrete, potentially actionable feedback on route safety concerns, such as:
“There needs to be a crossing guard at the corner of Kingsland and Franklin Ave. It is too dangerous with the bus stops and the ability for the cars to turn on red. There is a large number of Yantacaw kids in this area that are walking through that intersection. A crossing guard is needed to help keep them safe.”
“Even with a crossing guard it’s pretty dangerous crossing the streets. The cars try to pass each other around the other cars that stop. Either the police need to start handing out tickets or putting in a crossing light would be helpful.”
“Speed humps may be necessary on Passaic Ave between Kingsland Ave & Rutgers Pl. & between Brookfield Ave and Rutgers Pl. The 25 MPH electric sign should be operating during school hours!!!”
“Need to find a way to get the word out to the community to SLOW down especially during the morning and afternoon walking times.”
6. Parents provided other excellent suggestions, such as:
“Would like to see a bike rack on the property where the children could safely lock bicycles/scooters while in class.”
“Would love to try and organize a group to walk home together and possible mock walk to middle school.”
“Kids should be encouraged to make their own walking groups. Those that live further out can get dropped off at a friend’s house who lives closer to school so they can walk over together.”
“As a way to encourage students who live further away to walk more, maybe a designated drop-off point can be set-up at Kingsland Park or somewhere else close by where kids can meet and walk together. Or parents can be encouraged to drop off kids at friend’s houses that are closer to school so they can walk over together.”
7. Nearly 30 parents volunteered to help Yantacaw Walks with everything from identifying safety issues and organizing walking groups to helping with communication, promotion, events, and contests!
Although school may be out, the Yantacaw Walks team is busy planning for the next round of the Classroom Challenge, bringing parent feedback to town and district officials about route safety, designing a program to inspire walking in the colder months (Winter Walkers), engaging middle school students in walking to/from school, and sharing our program with other Nutley elementary schools.
To follow our progress, visit Yantacaw Walks on Facebook.