Ridin’ the rodeo at Grand Junction schools | PostIndependent.com
Sharon Sullivan
ssullivan@gjfreepress.com

Back to: Local

Ridin’ the rodeo at Grand Junction schools

Twice in the past two years, a Grand Valley child has been struck by a car while walking to school.

Grand Valley Bikes (a bike advocacy group), in partnership with Grand Junction, Mesa County, School District 51 employees and parents are actively working together to make getting to school safer while encouraging students to walk and bike.

Both pedestrian/car accidents occurred while students were walking to Thunder Mountain Elementary School on F 1/2 Road. Mesa County is hoping to prevent future accidents by building a sidewalk there next summer.

"It's not a safe route to school," Mesa County Public Works engineer Bill Taylor said. "Our plan will connect sidewalk gaps on the south side of F 1/2 Road."

The county also hopes to build a sidewalk across town on the north side of Broadway Avenue from Redlands Parkway to the Independence Ranch subdivision. For that sidewalk the county has applied for a Safe Routes to School grant.

"We have a lot of issues on Hwy. 340," where lots of elementary and middle school students bike and walk to school, Taylor said.

Recommended Stories For You

The city and Grand Valley Bikes (GVB) secured a $44,000 Safe Routes to School grant in 2011 to purchase bicycles and helmets, and provide for training of pedestrian and bicycle safety to students and District 51 physical-education teachers, said Grand Junction's Safe Routes to School coordinator Elizabeth Collins. A Colorado Department of Transportation grant funded the program in 2013.

This year, city and county officials, GVB, parents and educators are in the process of auditing routes to school to identify dangerous intersections and other unsafe areas near schools.

For example, at Pomona Elementary, Principal Emma Leigh Larson asked for a better sign be posted at the intersection of 25 1/2 Road and Patterson to make it more clear to motorists of the importance of yielding to pedestrians before making a right turn onto Patterson. A newer sign was installed at the principal's request.

The first year of the Safe Routes to School program involved training PE teachers at Tope and Rocky Mountain Elementary schools the road-safe skills curriculum. Chipeta, Duel Immersion and Fruitvale schools were added the following year. This year Orchard Avenue, Pomona, Shelledy, Fruitvale, Tope and Thunder Mountain schools are taking part.

Studies show that students who exercise before school do better academically, said Jennifer Fox-Colwell, a Grand Valley Bikes instructor and mother of two school-age children.

"We're trying to encourage kids to get to school under their own power — walking, biking, on scooters, or skateboards," and to always wear helmets, Fox-Colwell said.

GVB trainers go to the schools and teach lessons appropriate for each grade level. Kindergarten students learn how to walk safely on sidewalks (watching out for driveways), and how to be safe in parking lots and in crosswalks. First-graders begin to learn about biking. Second and third-graders learn basic skills, like checking that their bikes are safe and how to fit a helmet correctly.

Trainers teach kids how and when to ride on the road safely, and why it's good to use their own energy to get to school, Fox-Colwell said.

Last year Grand Valley Bikes purchased 18 bikes of varying sizes, plus cones and helmets. The equipment is loaned to PE teachers after they've undergone training to give students hands-on instruction and practice at riding bikes safely.

Thunder Mountain PE teacher Sharon Tenace used to teach a similar bike safety program in Florida. When she heard about the local Safe Routes to School program, she immediately asked for the curriculum.

During hour-long PE classes, in a roped-off section of parking lot, Tenace teaches third-, fourth- and fifth-graders how to stop correctly, use hand signals, and other safety skills. Kindergartners through second graders are taught how to cross a street safely.

"A lot of children are not educated about traffic," Tenace said. "I teach how to be predictable, how to be seen."

GVB trainers hold similar "bike rodeos," where students are matched with bikes and helmets and ride around an obstacle course in school parking lots. For some students, it's their first time on a bike.

"We love to teach kids how to ride bikes," Fox-Colwell said. "It's one of the great joys of the program."

Education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering and evaluation are the five keys to encouraging biking and walking, and ensuring safe routes to do so, Collins said.