St. Patrick’s receives Safe Kids grant

Nick Stroman

Streets and sidewalks around a Washington grade school will be a little safer for students to walk on, thanks to a large grant from Safe Kids Peoria Area/Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

The hospital teamed up with Washington community leaders to secure a $10,000 pedestrian safety grant for St. Patrick School to permanently improve walking conditions near the school.

The funding, sponsored by Safe Kids World Wide and Fed Ex, will provide additional street signage, flashing traffic safety lights and repaired crosswalks around the St. Patrick campus.

Dr. Sharon Weiss, principal at St. Patrick School, said the school was encouraged to apply for the grant after a noticeable change in traffic congestion near the school.

“We’ve haven’t had any incidents, but we have had an increase of more than 100 students in the past six years. That affects traffic obviously, so we went ahead and applied and crossed our fingers,” Weiss said.

The school formed a traffic safety committee to study the potential road and pedestrian hazards, Weiss said, and soon after parents and grandparents were volunteering to be crossing guards.

“We brainstormed some ideas of what we could do with this money to improve our school and Safe Kids told us about some things that had been done at other schools too,” Weiss said.

Kristan Creek, program coordinator at Children’s Hospital of Illinois, said the pedestrian task force is committed to more than just changing the environment around the school.

“The ultimate goal is to keep child pedestrians safe at St. Patrick School. In addition, the task force will focus on educating and encouraging students to practice safe walking behaviors, and encourage drivers to use caution in school zones,” Creek said.

For the next seven months, the task force will meet and focus on pedestrian safety education, encouraging safe pedestrian practices and physically improving the walking environment in Washington.

In addition to representatives from the school, Safe Kids Peoria Area and Fed Ex, the task force includes Bob Morris and Bill Bimrose from the city of Washington, Police Chief James Kuchenbecker and Joe Crowe of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The project will conclude Oct. 7 during a celebration of National Walk to School Day.

“The educational component is what really drew me into the project. It will play out heavily in the fall, but we’ve already started some things now,” Weiss said.

Weiss said a recent schoolwide essay contest on pedestrian safety was successful, with eighth grader Chad Cagle recently announced as the winner.

“They had to write about what they see on a daily basis and how the school can be safer. That was great because as an administrator, I always like to try to see through the eyes of the student,” Weiss said.

Weiss added for the fall there are plans to incorporate pedestrian safety into PE classes, and students will perform a complete assessment of the changes at the school through a photojournalism project.

St. Pat’s also received a $2,500 Safe Routes to School mini-grant for training, curriculum and tools related to pedestrian and bicycle safety, with educational lessons incorporated into curriculum for the 2009-10 school year.

Weiss said the entire grant process could not have happened without the community’s support.

“The city has been wonderful and plays a large role in the physical changes we will see this summer. Kristan is a dream to work with too,” Weiss said.

“For a non-public school to get this amount of money, it means a lot and is very rewarding. We intend to put it to good use,” Weiss added.

National data shows that child pedestrian injury remains the number two cause of accidental death among children ages 5 to 14 in the United States.

More than 630 children are killed and 30,000 treated in emergency rooms every year as a result of pedestrian injuries.