Keeping young pedestrians safe

William Paca Elementary one of 56 Md. schools taking part in Walk to School Day

October 04, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

Assistant Principal David Lewis has worked at William Paca Elementary School for seven years.

Not one of those years has passed without a student being hit by a car.

Lewis joined police officers, city officials and 250 elementary school students yesterday to help promote pedestrian safety as part of Baltimore's 10th annual Walk to School Day.

The event marked International Walk to School Month, a global program from the National Center for Safe Routes to School. More than 40 countries participate, and in Maryland, 56 schools registered for Walk to School events yesterday.

At East Baltimore's William Paca Elementary, the celebration included a walk around the Lakewood Avenue school, led by two mounted police officers and more than 20 volunteers. This was the first year William Paca hosted the walk.

"I think it's awesome," said 5-year-old Sade Browner, a William Paca kindergarten student. "I learned to be careful when I walk home with my brother."

Organizers say child pedestrian safety is especially important in Baltimore because so many children walk to school. Some funding for the walks comes from a $700,000 state grant to help the Baltimore Department of Transportation create safer routes for children, said city transportation director Alfred Foxx.

Supporters say such events help encourage healthier lifestyles and cleaner air and teach children safer traffic practices.

In 2004, 940 pedestrians were involved in car crashes in Baltimore City, according to transportation officials. In those accidents, 14 died.

The issue affects children statewide: For Maryland children younger than 15, pedestrian injury was the fifth-leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death from 1999 to 2004, according to data from the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention.

That's 16 deaths -- about 4 percent of all unintentional, injury-related deaths for children in that age group for that five-year period.

Educators say they are incorporating safety messages into their lesson plans every day, and children seem to be paying attention. Teachers say they hope to help prevent future tragedies.

"We've had quite a few children who have been struck by cars, especially on Orleans [Street]," said Vanessa Gainey, a kindergarten teaching assistant who has worked at William Paca for seven years.

"They should be aware of looking across the street both ways, always keeping in mind the streets are dangerous. We have to share the streets."

About 98 percent of William Paca students walk to school, Lewis said.

Kindergarten teacher Nancy Christian said students in the area should be aware of other safety issues. She teaches her students about fire safety, smoke detectors and the difference between good and bad strangers. Students say the lessons remind them to be cautious.

"I hold someone's hand when I cross the street," said Eric Baker, a 5-year-old kindergartner who walks home daily with his older brother and sister.

Foxx said the Department of Transportation will continue to promote safer routes for children traveling to and from school, and during yesterday's event he shared a proclamation from Mayor Sheila Dixon. "They're walking to school ... and they're supporting a healthier Baltimore," Foxx said.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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