Photo Gallery | Walking to school
BRATTLEBORO — Herds of students lined sidewalks and the shoulder of roads in Putney and Marlboro Wednesday morning, but one of the schools hoped its efforts would result in improved traffic safety measures along a dangerous stretch of road.
The entire student body from Marlboro School, along with teachers and state leaders, marched from their school to the post office along Route 9, where the speed limit is 50 mph and the entrance to the school coincides with the end of the westbound passing lane. Principal Francie Marbury organized the event as she feels the road is a serious safety concern for the students and the community, and the state lawmakers had her back,
"We have been following this issue all year and the residents are very concerned about the safety on this road," said Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, while walking with the group. "[Rep. Mollie Burke, P-Windham 2-2] and I used to work at Marlboro School so we remember trying to turn off of Route 9 into the school and it's very dangerous, very high rate of speed, lots of double wide and tractor trailers."
As the group was walking toward the post office, a large tractor trailer slowed down and crossed over the center line to avoid coming close to the body of students. Rep. Emily Long, D-Windham 5, who participated in the event along with Burke, noted that Route 9 has been continually closed down for several hours because of tractor trailer accidents, which has prevented many individuals from making their way to work and she feels this point highlights the safety concern.
"This is not only a winter thing," said Long.
Burke added that there had been discussion of making an addition to one of the transportation bills that would require trucks to put on chains when there is a weather advisory for Route 9. Under certain road conditions, trucks would be required to put chains on their wheels in order to continue driving the route.
"This is a perfect way to showcase two things I think we find as legislators that are most important to people of Vermont — their communities and their schools," said Balint.
The three walked together among the group and discussed ways in which they have tried to improve Route 9. Burke, who sits on the Transportation Committee in the House, said she first communicated the issue to the Vermont Agency of Transportation five to six years ago, but it was not addressed. She feels that now, they are closer to progress as traffic studies are underway.
"I think this walk highlights the issue and I think we have a very responsive team there at VTrans that will really look at the issue," said Burke.
She added that infrastructure is designed for motor vehicles, and communities should be created that everyone can utilize.
Marbury said they are working to reduce the problems by cutting back vegetation that obstructs visibility of the school from Route 9, improving signage and requesting new flashing lights. Marbury said she would be "delighted" if the speed could be reduced to 40 mph during school hours. Marlboro School has also enrolled in Vermont's Safe Routes to School program.
In addition, Long and Balint attended the Marlboro Town Meeting where they heard about this concern from a number of the attendees.
This was the first year, to Marbury's knowledge, that Marlboro School participated in such a walk. She added that such an annual activity is difficult because there is no safe walking path to the campus.
"We have a couple kids who live right across the road, and even though now one of them is an eighth grader, they still walk to school with their parents because of the safety concerns," said Marbury.
Marbury said she would like to see more opportunities for her students and community members to have the option to walk through Marlboro, perhaps by building a trail system behind the school property toward the center of town. Walk to School events are popular nationally, and are often observed in October, Putney Central School does a Walk to School Day in the fall and spring.
"Putney Central School has been a real inspiration because they participated in the Vermont Safe Routes to School program, which helped them with the sidewalks that were put in on the way to school, the new lighting that flashes that really calls attention to vehicles," said Marbury.
Putney Central School students, teachers, parents and their pets met at the Tavern Green in Putney at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning where they set off for their own Walk to School Day. They enjoyed muffins made by the PCS chef and beverages provided by Jim Heal from the Putney General Store.
Wednesday's walk was organized Hilary Keach, counselor and member of Putney Health Action Team at PCS. The Health Action Team coordinates physical, emotional and social wellness events for the school, and Keach said Walk To School Day promotes a tight-knit community and healthy living.
"I think the great thing about it is it brings us all together, it brings families and kids here in a way that is promoting what we promote every day at school, which is being kind to yourself and kind to your body and promoting that wellness is something that is easy, accessible and something we can do every day," said Keach.
PCS' physical education teacher, Matt Bristol, drove his car from home to the school and then biked down to the Tavern Green where he met his students for the walk. Bristol also wore a GoPro camera atop of his helmet and was hoping to capture some genuine footage of the students that he would like to present to the school, perhaps at the end of year.
Bristol added that he feels "fortunate" to have a group of students who like to move and be active, but occasionally challenges arise to motivate activeness in others.
"We are in the age of video games and social media, so it's definitely tough for me to hear from some kids, 'I spent the whole weekend inside playing video games,'" said Bristol.
Bristol says when students tell him this, he tries to have a conversation with them about what they enjoy, whether it be spending time with animals or their family and how they can incorporate wellness around such interests.
The principal at PCS, Herve Pelletier, participated in the Walk to School event Wednesday morning and brought along his pet dog.
"We're always trying to promote healthy activity and for kids who live close enough to school to walk, certainly in the spring and the fall when the weather is nice out," said Pelletier.
Pelletier mentioned that some of the students already bike to school from their homes and it is easy for them to do so when they live close by. While distance may impede some students from biking or walking to school in Putney, safety remains the major concern in Marlboro. Burke said she hopes a solution will unfold soon regarding a safer Route 9 for students and other community members.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275