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School district receives safe routes grant

Alexandria School District has been chosen to receive a $16,000 grant to encourage walking and bicycling to school safely.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation awarded grants to 92 Minnesota schools totaling $768,000 through the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.

The SRTS program was created in 2005 and strives to make improvements to the routes children use to walk and bike to school.

Funds will be allocated for the next two years to create a map available on the school district website for walking and bicycling to school, expanding crossing guard programs, implementing safety tips and incentives for walking and bicycling to school and evaluating progress of the program.

The focus of the project is on Lincoln Elementary School (LES), Voyager Elementary School (VES) and Discovery Middle School (DMS). "Each has unique pieces they're working on," said Jessica Peterson, health educator at Douglas County Public Health.

VES is adding crossing guards before and after school and organizing a walking school bus. "A walking school bus has the same concept as a regular school bus," said Peterson. The walking school bus involves a group of adults and children walking to school together, while picking up other children along the way.

VES started its walking school bus this past spring, according to Dana Christenson, principal of VES. "It's to show there's nothing to be afraid of," he said, in regard to walking and bicycling to school. Around 30 students and 10 adults participated.

LES is expanding school patrol and increasing the number of adult crossing guards. LES is also ramping up its "Walking Wednesday" idea, which is simply "stepping up efforts to get more and more kids walking," said Peterson.

Maps for all schools will be created. The routes will include distances no longer than one mile, which are considered safe walking and bicycling distances for children.

Other projects include the creation of flashing beacons that would be pinned to students' backpacks or lapels to increase their visibility. They would also be a fun way to provide incentives to walk and bike to school, in Christenson's opinion.

Although the school district was only very recently approved for the grant, Christenson says, "Hopefully we could have that [map] ready by the start of the school year." The Alexandria School District website is