Walk to School, Start a Movement
The most recent data from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement shows that almost
40% of Arkansas youth are overweight or obese; Arkansas ranks 6th in the nation for
childhood obesity indicating years of future chronic disease if no changes are made.
For 10 months out of the year, Clarendon’s Elementary School serves 273 Arkansas youth.
Many students live in town, less than a mile from the school. However, train tracks
cross the main roads to access the school and pedestrian crossing areas are very narrow.
Due to these safety concerns, most parents do not let their students walk to school.
The Department of Education reported that 100% of the students in the school qualify
for free or reduced meals. With no recreation facilities in town, low- or no-cost
ways to keep youth active are critical to the youth in this town.
Shortly after a local coalition launched in Summer 2016, youth involvement emerged
as a primary concern for community members. That fall, key municipal leaders met
with school leaders and the local coalition and learned how Safe Routes to School
(SRTS) could make the school commute safer for students and families. After learning
about educating youth on railroad safety and some SRTS programs, the group decided
to host the town’s first Walk/Bike to School Day. The city and a local community
member even donated a boy’s bike and girl’s bike and gave raffle tickets for the bikes
to any child that walked or biked to school that day.
Photo: Mayor Jim Stinson talks to Clarendon Elementary students about walking to school
and living healthy.
In early October, 46 adults and students met at a central location instead of heading
straight to school. The excitement was evident as police officers turned on their
lights, the local newspaper snapped photos and Clarendon’s first Walk to School Day
kicked off with a mayoral proclamation. Two students even rode home on brand new
bikes that day. The event spurred a movement in the school and community. The Clarendon
Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) coalition worked with the city to calm traffic
along roads with paint crosswalks and speed bumps. Later that year, one coalition
member stopped to talk to a railroad repairman at work. That same day, the shoulder
was widened for youth to cross the railroad tracks safely. With these improvements,
now all 2500 residents can walk and bike safely through the area.
The school plans to host a Walk to School Day annually and increase the frequency
of these days in the future. The Clarendon HEAL coalition meets regularly to continue
to plan new projects. North 7th Street runs North to South through the heart of Clarendon. At the north end are
some senior housing apartments and low-income housing units, and a senior center.
The street runs in front of the high school through to the main highway where the
group plans to establish a local farmer’s market. HEAL Clarendon recently started
a community garden down the street from the high school, next to the senior center.
As school starts, high school students will be able to safely walk to the garden and
connect with local seniors. The group’s focus is North 7th street but ultimately plan
to make all of the neighborhood streets pedestrian and bicycle-friendly.