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City gets $176,120 Safe Routes to School grant

Officials in Raleigh have tapped Mount Airy City Schools for grant funding to aid educational efforts as part of the state’s Safe Routes to School program — specially a project called Bears on the Move!

The local school system is one of only 12 organizations across North Carolina receiving Safe Routes to School Non-Infrastructure funding from the Federal Highway Administration. The grants will be used to develop creative and educational programs to teach community members about safe driving, walking and biking practices near campuses.

In Mount Airy’s case, the grant award sum is $176,120 in federal funds. This will be combined with a 20%, $44,030 match in local funding for a total project cost of $220,150, according to information from Carrie Venable, city schools’ executive officer of communications.

Funding is available for the project for two years once the Bears on the Move! initiative begins.

“We are thrilled to have this funding opportunity to improve programming and services to our students, families and community,” advised Penny Willard, director of innovative programming and federal programs for Mount Airy City Schools.

Willard was instrumental in securing the grant.

As the state program’s name implies, the local project’s goals are to provide safe routes to school, along with directing community resources toward healthy living practices, avoiding risky behaviors, reinforcing school-to-family partnerships and using the greenway system/local parks.

Coordinator role

A key piece of the grant program involves funding for a new Safe Routes to School coordinator — a full-time employee who’ll handle all Walking School Bus events, Bike to School events and assist with various school and community safety functions.

The Safe Routes to School coordinator will be a dedicated individual specifically working toward those purposes, according to details provided by Venable.

That role will include serving as a liaison between Mount Airy City Schools, Mount Airy Parks and Recreation and the city government itself. It further is to involve teaching with Mount Airy physical education instructors, facilitating summer enrichment programs and various other projects, while collaborating with a variety of additional stakeholders.

They are identified as classroom teachers for literacy, physical education teachers for healthy living, school and district leadership, along with school resource officers for Walking School Bus and Bike to School events, campus safety and summer programming.

The Bears on the Move! project was proposed as a way to strengthen the school’s existing partnerships with the city government and Mount Airy Parks and Recreation, Willard mentioned.

The grant-funded program will help school personnel educate families about the resources provided within their own community which should be utilized by all citizens to enhance their daily lives, officials said.

“Mount Airy City Schools is committed to providing innovative learning opportunities that not only educate but also enrich the lives of our students,” according to Willard.

“As educators, it is our duty to serve the public in lasting and impactful ways that reach beyond the traditional classroom walls,” she added. “We live in a wonderful city with many outstanding resources to improve our daily lives — unfortunately, some of our families in poverty need additional support to learn about these resources in order to best support their children in developing healthy habits for life.”

The grant funding also will be used to finance the planning process for the second year of a municipal Master Sidewalk Plan.

Focus on walking, biking

Bears on the Move! conforms to the mission of the Safe Routes to School program, which promotes healthy and active lifestyles by encouraging children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bike to classes.

Also, the program facilitates the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities that improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution near campuses.

“Together we can achieve greatness for our children and families while also building a stronger community,” according to Willard. “Education is a game changer for many and resources like this can support equitable learning experiences that are needed to truly make a difference.”

The funding for the two-year Safe Routes to School program implementation will operate on a reimbursement basis in which the N.C. Department of Transportation repays the participating organizations once the funds are spent.

“This is an important way to improve child safety and promote the healthy benefits of walking and biking,” Ryan Brumfield, director of the DOT’s Integrated Mobility Division, said in a statement.

Statewide the grant amounts vary from $89,349 to $491,035, with each award depending on what the city or organization involved sought in its application.

In all, the N.C. Department of Transportation will award $3 million in grants to fund educational programs in connection with the Safe Routes to School program.

Other grant recipients are:

• Winterville;

• Triangle J Council of Governments;

• Durham Public Schools;

• Wake County Health and Human Services;

• Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments;

• Hoke County Health Department;

• Carrboro;

• Chapel Hill;

• Greensboro;

• Foothills Regional Commission;

• Land of Sky Regional Council.



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