Rock Hill students walk to school despite lack of safe route

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comOctober 11, 2013 

On Friday morning, dew covered the lawn of Rosewood Elementary School, which sits among houses on quiet streets.

But the streets that surround Rosewood have no sidewalks and just a block away is Celanese Road, a busy, six-lane highway with narrow, overgrown sidewalks.

Despite Rosewood’s status as a “community school” by parents and teachers, there is no truly safe way for students to walk to school – even those who live just minutes away.

So, to raise awareness about the benefits of walking to school and the lack of the ability to do so at Rosewood, more than 100 students, teachers and parents parked their cars at the Mayflower Seafood Restaurant on Celanese and walked – sometimes single file – down the street and around the corner to school, hosting their own “Walk to School Day” celebration.

Wednesday was the official date of International Walk to School Day, but because the Rock Hill School District had a late start, Rosewood decided to do its event on Friday.

“This event helped us get so many new parents involved,” Principal Stephanie DiStasio said.

For years, the lack of a safe walking route has been a concern for Rosewood, she said. Of the 610 students at the school, less than five percent walk each day.

“I don’t walk because there’s a big highway,” said Amaris, 9.

And now Rosewood administration and the School Improvement Council, led by parent Matt Hiers, are moving forward with a plan to make Rosewood more accessible.

“The safety of our children is paramount,” Hiers said.

On Friday afternoon, school officials were scheduled to meet with representatives from Safe Routes to School, a South Carolina organization that helps teach safety and encourage walking and biking to school.

The group also provides money to pay for “walkability” projects like crosswalks and teaches schools and parents how to work to reduce the speed limit in school zones.

A teacher also recently wrote a grant to the Dodd Studio, a landscaping firm in Rock Hill, to add better, safer outdoor spaces around Rosewood, which might be able to include sidewalks.

“We’re really just beginning this process,” DiStasio said.

The school isn’t even really sure who controls Rosewood Drive or the streets surrounding it, so its unclear who would share the responsibility and financial burden that might come from “walkability” additions, like a roadside sidewalk.

When school lets out, DiStasio or staff members or parent volunteers walk with the students who do walk home and stand as traffic guards when they have to cross streets, because there aren’t any crosswalks.

Braxton Wyatt and his daughter Peyton, 8, were among the walkers at Friday’s event. It was her idea to participate, he said.

“Because I like walking,” Peyton said.

While they live within walking distance of Rosewood, Wyatt said, they don’t usually walk to school because of the lack of sidewalks. He said he might consider letting Peyton walk to school if it were safer – once she’s older.

At the front of the pack of walkers was fifth-grade teacher Rachel Schaeffer, accompanied by four students who are part of the “Girls on the Run” club.

“It promotes exercise, good health habits, team building and community building,” she said.

At the end of the walk, before heading to class, walkers were treated to granola bars, bananas and water. They also could get bookmarks and yellow wristbands that promoted walking to school.

Rachel Southmayd •  (803)329-4072

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