Olympic Hills Elementary School’s ‘Walking School Bus’ route gets a makeover

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, volunteers and members of Feet First – an agency dedicated to creating walkable cities and neighborhoods – set out to clean up a path frequently taken by students on their way school.  Drew Devitis, Feet First’s Volunteer Coordinator and a Solid Ground Apple Corps Member, led the project along with Apple Corps Member Zoe Harris. We would like to share the following article Drew wrote describing the project and experience.

Before & after image of Walking School Bus stair route

Before & after image of Walking School Bus stair route (photo by Feet First)

On a cool, crisp January morning, twenty volunteers gathered at Seattle’s Olympic Hills Elementary School to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and serve the greater community at large. Several compassionate volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital and UW Radiology, along with some independent volunteers, joined Feet First in cleaning up the route of a Walking School Bus, a parent-led walking group that leads students to school on “Two Feet Tuesdays.” The passion and commitment from these volunteers definitely fit the character of the day as well as the creative altruism that MLK, Jr. espoused.

The focus of the volunteer project was on cleaning up a staircase and walkway within yards of Olympic Hills Elementary, which is one of four Seattle schools currently participating in a Safe Routes to School initiative supported by Feet First. This walkway had fallen into disarray over the past several years. Thorny blackberry bushes and wild entanglements of English ivy had been steadily encroaching upon the stairs, making it feel like an uninviting place for kids walking to school. Moreover, rain soaked leaves, slippery pine needles, and other debris littered the walkway, making it potentially hazardous for children and adults alike.

Before and after bramble cleanup (photo from Feet First)

Before & after bramble cleanup (photo by Feet First)

In order to approach the task at hand, volunteers formed two separate work groups. One set of volunteers, armed with rakes, brooms and clippers, tended to cleaning the walkway and trimming the vegetative growth that was encroaching the stairs. The other group, equipped with loppers and shovels, concentrated on removing a thick patch of blackberry bushes, which had overtaken the bottom of the staircase and made the path feel like a rather uninviting place. After a few hours of hard work, the staircase and walkway became a much more appealing place to walk.

By the end of the day, volunteers had impressively filled up an entire dumpster with invasive species and assorted yard waste. The stairs, which had been obscured by the thicket of blackberries, are now clearly visible from the street. Additionally, mulch was spread throughout the site where the blackberry bushes had once been, creating a warm, pleasing feel.  A neighbor driving by in her car even stopped to get out and thank the volunteers for all their hard work in transforming this public walkway into a more pleasant, welcoming space.

“You would be surprised how much of a difference a clean, inviting walkway can make to enrich the experience for kids walking to school,” says Jen Cole, Safe Routes to School Program Director. “The effort to clean this once untidy walkway, combined with the installation of safety flag buckets in the nearby area, will really go a long way to make the Olympic Hills neighborhood safer for walking.”

This project was made possible by volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital and UW Radiology through the United Way of King County, and the community of Olympic Hills Elementary School. We’re also thankful for the support of Public Space Management Program, Development Lead Jennifer Wieland and the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Division, which generously provided the materials used for this project.

Feet First day of service restores Dearborn Park elementary sidewalk

Editor’s note: This article was written by a Feet First volunteer and is reposted from the Feet First! blog.

By Amanda GarberichGroup Working MLK Day 2013

Outfitted in snug caps and down jackets, the volunteers gathered at Seattle’s Dearborn Park Elementary to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, the importance of service and community, and the value of maintaining safe sidewalks for students before setting out to restore the school’s Walking School Bus routes. Several volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital cited King’s commitment to service as a source of inspiration for the day’s mission.

Dearborn Park Principal Angela Sheffey Bogan was motivated by the second-term inauguration of America’s first African-American president, the live footage of which she’d watched with her family that morning. Another volunteer watched a video of King’s “I Have a Dream” with his son the night before. All agreed that joining altruistic forces to make the school’s sidewalks clean and safe was a fitting way to honor the civil rights hero (and masterful marcher) on this eponymous national holiday.

Volunteers split into groups in order to tackle five neglected sidewalks. These stretches of concrete, on the north and south ends of the Beacon Hill neighborhood elementary school, were steadily surrendering to the tangle of weeds, ivy and litter that’d been creeping over its surface since the city installed the sidewalks five years ago. For the students treading these walkways every Wednesday as part of the school’s Walking School Bus, the leafy debris and vine-like weeds were an eyesore and a safety hazard.

Dearborn Park Elementary is one of four Seattle schools currently participating in a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiative supported by Feet First. Principal Bogan, a frequent Walking School Bus “driver,” recognizes the incalculable importance of the weekly tradition. “The value of having a safe and clean sidewalk for my students is immeasurable,” Bogan stressed.

Before & After MLK Day 2013Wielding rakes, loppers, and, in some cases, machetes, volunteers set to work. They swept rain-soaked leaves into tidy piles, trimmed low-hanging branches and encroaching English Ivy, and removed thorny Himalayan Blackberry canes. AmeriCorps member Gordon Padelford and Feet First Volunteer Coordinator Darcy Edmunds (a Solid Ground Apple Corps member) offered tips on tool handling (rakes down, shears down, gloves on). Younger volunteers, some who “ride” the Dearborn Walking School Bus, scoured the ground for litter and used litter pickers to lift bottle caps and candy wrappers with a sense of duty that belied their youth. One neighbor came out and applauded the group as they cleared the sidewalk near an empty lot. The stalwart group worked with systematic efficiency until, just a few short hours later, the sidewalks, once slick with leaves and overgrowth, gleamed in all their walkable, gray glory.

“You might not think that a clean sidewalk would be such a big deal, but a few years ago, I actually saw a little girl lose her shoe in the muck here,” says Jen Cole, SRTS Program Director. “Now there’s a weekly walking school bus, and a growing number of students who walk here every day – it’s great to see a team of volunteers populating the back streets and clearing away the debris!”

kids walkin on clean sidewalk after MLK day of serviceTo volunteer on a project making it easier and safer for people to go by foot, please contact Feet First by calling 206.652.2310 ext. 5 or emailing darcy@feetfirst.org.

This project was made possible by volunteers from Seattle Children’s Hospital through United Way of King County, Solid Ground’s Apple Corps, and the community of Dearborn Park Elementary School. Seattle Public Utilities’ Adopt-a-Street program and Seattle Department of Transportation’s Urban Forestry Division generously provided tools used for this event.

Apple Corps seeds nutrition & fitness

The Apple Corps 2010/2011!

Last week Solid Ground’s Apple Corps AmeriCorps team showcased its efforts to counter childhood obesity through nutrition and fitness education and activities.

The eight Apple Corps Members each discussed their work during their one-year term to provide school and community-based nutrition and fitness education and awareness.

Team Members are actively engaged in local neighborhoods hardest hit by the obesity epidemic. They teach in schools, create family community market nights, coordinate cooking classes, garden clubs and walking challenges, and use other tools and partnerships to effect change.

Lessons Apple Corps Member Jen Yogi learned in school

Team member Heidi Evans brought Cooking Matters classes to the public housing facilities she worked in on behalf of Solid Ground’s Partners in Caring program. As one class member wrote in her evaluation, the “classes increased my confidence that I can cook healthy meals.”

In addition to developing and providing programming, Apple Corps Members received training and support in how to manage their projects, many of which involved significant community partnerships, and applied an anti-racist analysis to their work.

“I tried to not privilege certain ways of speaking about nutrition,” Heidi said, “and to value what others bring and the important role of cultural food traditions.”

Apple Corps Members will wrap up their projects over the next month or so, with a new team forming at the end of the Summer! You can learn more about the Corps and donate to support it on the Apple Corps webpage.

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