A Safe Routes to School program is encouraging children at three Omaha schools to take a more active path to and from school.
The most recent phase of the project includes conducting walk audits in the neighborhoods surrounding All Saints, Sacred Heart and Holy Name schools. The audits identify what prohibits kids from walking or biking to school, like a lack of sidewalks, and what is already in place to promote the activity, said Ashley Carroll, a spokeswoman for Live Well Omaha Kids, the group leading the project. Then those involved in the project will enact solutions.
A walk audit on Thursday for Sacred Heart, 2205 Binney St., found persistent speeding and the presence of litter and glass on sidewalks near the school. Carroll said there were also positives noticed, like a nice shaded boulevard, plants and well-maintained sidewalks.
"What we want to see is that students who reside within a 1-mile radius are able to walk or bike to school and that their parents feel comfortable letting them do so," she said.
Sacred Heart principal Mike Jensen hopes to see more children walking to school instead of getting a ride as a result of the program. He said there are presently about two children at Sacred Heart who walk to school from home.
"Anytime we can help guarantee the safety of our children is our top priority," he said.
The program for the Christian Urban Educational Services district — All Saints, Sacred Heart and Holy Name schools — kicked off at the beginning of the school year.
So far, project leaders have formed school advisory committees, surveyed students on their commuting habits and safety, and conducted two of the three walk audits. The final walk audit at Holy Name is scheduled for March 26.
"Safety and distance from the school are two of the most prevalent themes that parents identified as barriers," Carroll said.
After the walk audit at Sacred Heart, the group of Live Well Omaha Kids officials, school staff, parents and students gathered to discuss an action plan. Suggestions discussed included conducting a traffic study on 24th and Binney Streets, implementing a neighborhood watch system and designating of the safest route with appropriate signage.
While the bigger solutions like repainting crosswalks will take more time and likely be completed over the summer, Carroll said small steps like a neighborhood cleanup day can be enacted soon.
Official route maps will be given to students in May with a kick-off event. Carroll said the launch party will be a fun way to give the students the new routes and provide further education and encouragement.
"Healthy kids learn better," Carroll said. "We want to increase physical activity and academic outcomes."