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Safety First: Community Changes Support Students Walking to School

| California

Dec 10, 2018

The Challenge

In Modesto, California, the Airport neighborhood is a residential low-income community. The area is missing sidewalks and the streets are difficult to walk.  There is not enough public and school bus services. It is dangerous for students to walk and bike to school. In addition, unsafe drivers and loose dogs are common. These issues keep community members from walking or biking in their neighborhood.

Orville Wright Elementary, part of Modesto City Schools (MCS), is located in the center of the Airport neighborhood. It serves as a primary site for community events. The school is co-located with Head Start, Healthy Start, and a city community center.

three kids riding bikes outside to school

The Solution

The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention (NEOP) program has an ongoing partnership with the Orville Wright Elementary School and the Healthy Start program administrator. In recent years, these partners have worked together on a number of successful neighborhood projects.  

One outcome of this partnership was the 2016 completion of a walk audit and report from California Walks. This report highlighted:

  • the need for infrastructure improvements
  • safer transportation options in the Airport neighborhood

Based on the report findings, the city installed a new 4-way stop sign at a busy intersection next to the school.
Additional partners continue to identify other neighborhood improvements. These partners include:

  • NEOP staff
  • the Healthy Start administrator
  • Tuolumne River Trust staff (a local community group) 
  • residents participating in “Charlas” (Community Chats)

Their goal is to enhance children’s safety and support active transportation options.

The partners recommended making a Walking School Bus. The Walking School Bus involves adult volunteers walking with and supervising students to school. They use pre-selected, scheduled routes.

NEOP staff developed a six-week pilot Walking School Bus program to assess participants’ interest. Highlights of the pilot program include:

  • Members of the “Charlas” community group and school parents volunteered to walk with the students along six routes. 
  • All volunteers attended a pedestrian safety training class. 
  • Throughout the pilot, NEOP staff collected weekly participation numbers for each walking route. 
  • Volunteers supervised 249 student trips to school.

The Results

An assessment of the Walking School Bus pilot program showed strong support for continuing the effort.

  • More students walked to school during the pilot program than before the launch of the program. 
  • The school principal and Healthy Start administrator have now started a permanent program. The Healthy Start administrator agreed to serve as the key point of contact for volunteers. This is ideal because of his regular presence at the school.
  • Local police officers increased their presence in the Airport neighborhood. They help watch and control unsafe drivers and loose dogs after community partners made the request. 

Infrastructure problems still exist, including the lack of speed bumps, stop signs, and well-painted crosswalks. NEOP staff members are working on solving these problems by building relationships with additional city and community partners. They are trying to get state level Safe Routes to School funding.

Sustaining Success

Orville Wright Elementary plans to continue the Walking School Bus program from now on. The community and school administrators are committed to providing safe walking and biking options for students. The new school principal has past experience with the Walking School Bus program. He brings that background to Orville Wright Elementary. School administrators and NEOP staff continue to recruit and maintain a group of volunteers. This volunteer group is essential to the future success of this program.

Stories from the Field

The California Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) aims to inspire and empower underserved Californians to improve their health and the health of their communities through healthy eating and active living. The program facilitates this through education and community change in partnership with many others.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) shares this story to highlight a snapshot of some of the California SNAP-Ed work conducted by local health departments and partners across the Golden State.


CDPH funds local health departments, 57 county and three city health departments, to conduct SNAP-funded obesity prevention programming across the state. The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, California Department of Aging, and Catholic Charities of California, Inc. also fund local agencies to conduct programs that align with the California SNAP-Ed mission. The California Department of Social Services oversees the collective California SNAP-Ed work.

Expanding our Reach

We hope these community stories inspire you to envision how to create a healthier tomorrow!

This article was submitted by the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch California Department of Public Health, a SNAP-Ed Implementing Agency. For more information, please contact Kyle Fliflet.  

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