In the midst of roughly 500 buzzing students celebrating International Walk to School Day on Wednesday, the Takoma Park Safe Routes to School program received a national special recognition award at Piney Branch Elementary School.
The Takoma Park Safe Routes to School program, which serves Piney Branch and four other area schools, was one of three programs in the country that, though they did not receive the top award, were recognized as stand-outs in their roles encouraging students to walk and bike to school safely.
The award winners were chosen by representatives from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the National PTA, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
Takoma Park Safe Routes to School Coordinator Lucy Neher said the award is “an honor.”
Neher told the crowd of children that, rather than the award being about the city or the schools, “It’s about you students.”
“What we care about is keeping you healthy and safe,” she said to the students.
Rachel DuBois, Piney Branch’s acting principal, said the school is “really proud” of the award.
“It just solidifies the fact that we’re doing a great job,” she said.
Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, said that Takoma Park, Silver Spring and Maryland in general have been leaders in the area of pedestrian safety, including that of school children. She said Takoma Park has taken measures such as building a lot of sidewalks and crosswalks and reducing traffic speed.
John Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said before the ceremony that walking to school both is physically healthy and builds community.
Porcari suggested to the kids who do not walk, bike or scooter to school everyday to “give it a try.”
“One of the safest ways you can get to school is actually to walk,” he said.
Torine Creppy, chief program officer for Safe Kids Worldwide, told students that walking to school can mean having fun, enjoying freedom, and exercising, all while being safe.
The award ceremony coincided with the walking event celebrated by more than 4,000 schools around the country and 290 schools in Maryland, including all five schools the city’s Safe Routes to School program serves.
For Joelle Ocheltre, whose Silver Spring home sits too far away to allow a regular stroll to Piney Branch, the walk gave her the chance to traverse the event’s short route by foot with friends.
“It’s really different since I live 6 miles away,” Ocheltre said.
Phoebe Solomon, 9, of Takoma Park, said she usually walks with her dad to school and likes spending time with him.
“We talk about random subjects,” she said.
Sally Kern of Takoma Park said she has been walking her two sons to school for nine years.
Her son Larkin, a fifth-grader at Piney Branch, occasionally will throw a football around with his dad as they walk to school, she said.
Kern added that walking has been beneficial for her sons because it gets them moving and stretching and allows them to socialize with their friends.
“It gets their ya-yas out,” she said.