Portland, Yarmouth schools get grants to encourage walking, biking

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PORTLAND — Two area schools have received $1,000 grants from the National Center for Safe Routes to Schools to encourage safe and increased walking and biking.

Ocean Avenue Elementary School and Yarmouth’s Harrison Middle School were among the 26 schools selected to receive grants from 212 applicants nationwide.

At Harrison Middle School, students are working on a project using global positioning system devices and OpenStreetMap – a collaborative, online and free editable map of the world – to create safe route maps that walkers and bicyclists can use to travel to school and around the community.

At Ocean Avenue Elementary School, the Parent Teacher Organization will work with students and the community to implement a multi-faceted safe walk/ride to school program by evaluating traffic patterns and educating students and parents about the benefits of safe transportation.

The Ocean Avenue School invited Mayor Michael Brennan, Sarah Cushman, who coordinates the Southern Maine Safe Routes to School program, and Oakie, the Oakhurst Dairy mascot, to participate in this month’s monthly Walk and Wheel Day on Dec. 14.

Kristin Sims-Kastelein, vice president of the PTO, said the grant will help promote walking and biking education and help to facilitate a culture change in the school. She said many parents and students were used to walking in the area at the Nathan Clifford School, but the change in location to Ocean Avenue requires an adjustment.

“We want to build off the habits of the Baxter community with a new community of walkers,” she said. “We plan to start with the education piece and look to build a long-term system.”

Sims-Kastelein said the grant will be used for a facilitator to help with educational and promotional materials. She said they plan to have speakers talk with younger students about safety and how to be responsible when biking and walking.

She said the hope is to get the community involved by partnering with the Back Bay Neighborhood association and encouraging local businesses to be part of the support system.

In Yarmouth, Sue Ellen Bordwell of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee said the grant was competitive and she was pleased that the School Department and the community could be involved in the process. 

She said Superintendent Judy Paolucci helped with the idea to have the students use GPS units to map the previously unmarked walk and bike routes to the schools, playing fields and the library.

“We hope to have maps on the town and school websites and create some way-finding signage so people can use the paths around town,” Bordwell said. “And, because of the open mapping source, once we complete the project, any school school system in the country can follow our lead.”

Bordwell said the middle school students have fun with the GPS units, and it tests their science and math abilities by plotting coordinates.

In addition to providing residents safe alternatives to schools and other locations, the grant will be used to purchase safety vests, crossing flags for busy streets, bicycle bells to enhance safety and signs for the paths.

“And, it is a great way for the kids to give back to the community,” she said.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.