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Safe Routes to School: A community-led and data-driven approach to walking and biking to school

State: TX Type: Promising Practice Year: 2021

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Harris County Public Health
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Safe Routes to School: A community-led and data-driven approach to walking and biking to school

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is the local county health department for the unincorporated areas of Harris County, Texas and 33 municipalities located outside the City of Houston. The county is divided into four Commissioner precincts, each responsible for managing roads and bridges, creating policies, and-budget-making decisions within their precinct. HCPH provides comprehensive health services and programs with dedication to improving the health and well-being of Harris County residents and the communities in which they live, learn, work, worship and play. The HCPH jurisdiction serves approximately 2.3 million people within Harris County, not including the city of Houston. For certain public health services, such as mosquito control, Ryan White/Part A HIV funding, and refugee health screening, the HCPH jurisdiction encompasses the entirety of the county, including the city of Houston, thus providing services to 4.7 million people in total.

According to the CDC, 18.5% of children ages 12 to 19 in the U.S. are obese. Hispanics (25.8%) and non-Hispanic blacks (22%) have higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%).1 Data shows that 50% of all students in the U.S. walked or biked to school in 1969, including 90% of those who lived within a mile of the school they attended. Today, the number has declined to fewer than 15%.2 The decline is linked to several factors, including school location, lack of pedestrian and bike infrastructure, urban growth, and increased traffic. Students who choose to walk and bike to and from school are rewarded with many health benefits in addition to increases in physical activity. Studies have shown that physical activity has positive effects on attention, memory and academic performance. Children who walk or bike to school arrive ready to learn, have increased focus and problem-solving abilities and perform better on tests.3

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is an evidence-based strategy that aims to improve the health and safety of children and enhance community environments to support active transportation. SRTS is one of the CDC's Health Impact in 5 Years (HI-5) initiatives that improve health, are cost effective, and produce results within five years.4 By combining education strategies and environmental improvements, students will become more knowledgeable about safe walking and biking and its health benefits, and the community-built environment will better support behavioral changes towards active transportation. The goals of HCPH SRTS efforts to:

·         Increase the number of children walking and biking to school

·         Increase knowledge of and support for SRTS among teachers, parents, students, and community members

·         Increase physical activity in children

·         Increase the number of safe street segments in school zones

·         Foster safer neighborhoods

·         Decrease the likelihood of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries

·         Reduce childhood obesity and risk for chronic disease in the long term

The Pasadena SRTS program was created and supported by numerous community organizations. The strength and comprehensiveness of this program is due to the strong collaboration among various agencies. HCPH Environmental Public Health (EPH)'s Built Environment (BE) Unit and the Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention (NCDP) Division make up the SRTS team in partnership with external agencies such as, Pasadena Independent School District (ISD), Healthy Living Matters (HLM) - Pasadena, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the City of Pasadena.  The implementation of SRTS efforts and activities occurred in stages with detailed timelines. Primary activities included:

·         Collecting data and conducting parent perception surveys, principal interviews and crossing guard surveys

·         Completing community outreach and collaborative planning meetings

·         Conducting data and geospatial analysis

·         Hosting SRTS events and trainings

·         Developing the SRTS plans and recommendations

·         Conducting outcome analysis

The SRTS program in Pasadena serves as a model practice and has been successful due to the deep collaboration between HCPH and community partners. Initial SRTS efforts were able to grow strategically and organically into a well-established program by partnering with existing health collaboratives that have established trust and buy-in from community members. Since 2014, HCPH has convened the HLM-Pasadena Community Task Force, a collaborative of local stakeholders that focus on preventing childhood obesity in the city of Pasadena. In partnership with HLMPasadena, the SRTS team has worked closely with Pasadena ISD to create opportunities for increasing the number of children walking and biking to school. Based on the success of the SRTS program in Pasadena, HCPH expanded SRTS efforts to the city of Baytown in 2017. This expansion was supported by the Be Well Baytown initiative, a health collaborative in the city of Baytown comprised of 23 representatives from local organizations.

The SRTS efforts aim to address and reduce health inequities by creating a safer travel environment and encouraging active transportation for all students, regardless of age, income, or ability. All priority schools included in the Pasadena and Baytown SRTS program have higher percentages of low-income households and have a high rate of students participating in the free or reduced lunch program. The Pasadena priority schools also have no bus service available.

Neither Pasadena nor Baytown have previously participated in any formal SRTS programming or have created SRTS plans. The Pasadena and Baytown SRTS programs occurred in overlapping stages with their own respective timelines and project objectives, though both have included the completion of community specific SRTS plans. In Pasadena, the city has made strides to utilize the engineering recommendations for infrastructure improvements. The school district has also increased the number of walk and bike to school events year over year and is currently hosting an artistic crosswalk contest. The City of Baytown has highlighted the importance of the engineering recommendations as they draft future city plans. Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District (GCCISD) has also shown their support by helping coordinate walk to school events with the priority elementary schools when it is safer to host in-person events.

Program and/or local health department websites

· https://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Services-Programs/All-Programs/Built-Environment-BE-Program/Safe-Routes-to-School-SRTS-Program

· https://www.mdanderson.org/research/research-areas/prevention-personalized-risk-assessment/be-well-communities/be-well-baytown.html

· http://www.healthylivingmatters.net/

References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

2. https://www.saferoutespartnership.org/safe-routes-school

3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2012.09.003

4. https://www.cdc.gov/policy/hst/hi5/saferoutes/index.html

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is an evidence-based method to increase physical activity in school-aged children and reduce the risk of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries. SRTS is one of the CDC HI-5 initiatives that improve health, are cost effective, and will produce results within five years.1 The 6 E's of SRTS are nationally recognized program components with a comprehensive and integrated approach. The 6 E's include: Engagement, Equity, Engineering, Encouragement, Education, and Evaluation. Integrating the 6 E's into the SRTS plans helps to establish an environment that enhances, supports and sustains walking and biking to school. SRTS efforts are traditionally led by schools and city planning departments from a transportation lens. Therefore, partnering with a local health department is innovative and adds value by incorporating health and applying a Health in All Policies approach.2

Equity is a key principle of the SRTS program and is embedded throughout the SRTS plans to ensure that every student is included in programming and education activities and has access to safe and accessible routes to school. Equity is implemented by identifying communities of color, providing infrastructure improvements and hosting walking and biking events in historically underserved communities, providing educational and program materials in multiple languages, engaging diverse stakeholders at different stages throughout the SRTS program, and ensuring ADA accessibility and compliance for all infrastructure improvement projects.

The SRTS program benefits and targets school-age children, parents, teachers, and staff at schools included in the plan by creating a safer travel environment around the schools and reducing motor vehicle congestion at school drop-off and pick-up zones; however, all community members benefit from SRTS. Infrastructure improvements such as new sidewalks, road-oriented lighting, and bike lanes would improve walking and biking for the broader community.

Pasadena ISD serves approximately 55,395 students across 61 campuses.3 A majority of the students (82%) are of Hispanic and Latino race/ethnicity, and 75% of the total student population is on the free and reduced lunch program.4 Children in low-income communities and those who are Latino and African American have historically experienced the highest obesity rates of any population group and bear the burden of the most dangerous environments and conditions for walking and biking.5 The SRTS program addresses these inequities by conducting environmental assessments around the priority schools in order to provide infrastructure recommendations that will encourage active transportation and improve the safety of children who walk and bike to school. Providing education on safe walking and biking, hosting walk and bike to school events, and offering traffic safety education to the greater community promotes active transportation and encourages walking and biking as a mode of transportation to influence behavioral outcomes.

During the development of the Pasadena SRTS plan, several strategies and tools were used for implementing SRTS programs, projects, recommendations, and finding sustainable funding sources. HCPH used the Environmental Scan Tool (EST) developed by the HCPH Built Environment Unit to assess roadway and sidewalk infrastructure around the schools. The EST is an innovative tool that was adapted from validated, paper-based walkability audits and developed into an online platform to collect data on pedestrian, bicycle, and road infrastructure. The tool collects detailed information on sidewalk availability, sidewalk conditions, bicycle infrastructure, and uses GPS coordinates to map street elements and traffic control devices, such as pedestrian crossing signals, school zones, and ADA compliant ramps. The results are mapped using ArcGIS software which provide visualizations of the results. Additionally, the plan incorporates data received from principal interviews, parent perception surveys, engagement with crossing guards, and other community input to understand the behaviors and beliefs about walking and biking to school. The SRTS team is able to combine the elements of the 6 E's with the EST data and community data to understand individual needs of schools and to create data-driven and evidence-based recommendations in the SRTS plan.
 

References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/policy/hst/hi5/saferoutes/index.html

2. https://www.cdc.gov/policy/hiap/index.html

3. https://www1.pasadenaisd.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_80688/File/Departments/Communcations/Communications/Pasadena_DistrictStats_2015-16_Jan2016.pdf

4. https://www1.pasadenaisd.org/departments/departments_f-_l/human_resources/welcome_to_our_community/district_profile

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2571048/

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is an evidence-based strategy with a goal to increase the health and safety of children and improve environmental quality. SRTS encourages children to walk, bike, and participate in other forms of active transportation on the way to and from school. The Pasadena and Baytown SRTS programs have been modified to address the specific needs of each community. However, both SRTS programs aim to create safe, convenient and fun opportunities for children to bike and walk to and from school. The Pasadena SRTS and Baytown SRTS programs were designed to achieve the following outcomes:

·         Increase the number of children walking and biking to school

·         Increase knowledge of and support for SRTS among teachers, parents, students, and community members

·         Increase physical activity in children

·         Increase the number of safe street segments in school zones

·         Foster safer neighborhoods

·         Decrease the likelihood of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries

·         Reduce childhood obesity and risk for chronic disease in the long term

 Pasadena SRTS – The creation of the Pasadena SRTS plan began from grassroots efforts led by HLM- Pasadena to tackle childhood obesity and increase physical activity in students. In 2014, SRTS education and encouragement activities were discussed and implemented by HCPH, HLM-Pasadena partners and Pasadena ISD, leading to discussions on creating an SRTS plan. In 2017, efforts to create a formal Pasadena SRTS plan began and the plan was completed in 2018. The community partners and the SRTS team met monthly and worked closely to create opportunities to increase the number of children walking and biking to school. More specifically, the community partners collaborated with the SRTS team to create the Pasadena SRTS plan using the 6 E's:

·         Evaluation: An initial environmental assessment was conducted in 2012-2013 prior to the creation of HLM-Pasadena to determine barriers to walking and biking around priority elementary schools. Following the establishment of HLM-Pasadena, it was determined that a number of schools did not have bike racks, thus presenting a barrier to riding a bike to school without a safe place to store it. Lastly, during the data collection phase of the SRTS plan, parent perception surveys were distributed to parents of all 4th grade students, principal interviews were conducted, and an infrastructure assessment using the EST was completed around the seven priority schools.

·         Engineering: As a result of environmental assessments, walk audits, and EST findings a number of engineering changes have taken place. In 2014, bike racks for eight Pasadena ISD schools were purchased and installed. In 2017, a pedestrian bridge in unsafe conditions at Gardens elementary school was replaced with a new steel-beam bridge. Sidewalk connections to this bridge were later completed in 2019. After the completion of the SRTS plan, the city installed a new pedestrian esplanade with mid-block crossing on Richey Street in front of Richey Elementary and has committed to utilizing engineering and sidewalk improvement recommendations in the future. All engineering recommendations were vetted by the City of Pasadena and Harris County Precinct 2 prior to completion of the plan.

·         Encouragement: The SRTS team developed a Bike Fairy program to reward and encourage students who rode their bikes to school. On various days throughout the school year, the Bike Fairies would leave goody bags filled with fun and educational materials on bikes parked at the schools. The priority schools began hosting walk and bike to school events in 2017 with two schools participating. In the 2019-2020 school year, that number increased to 13 schools hosting events with 1,154 students participating. There were an additional six walks scheduled between March-May 2020 that were unable to occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase in events is a direct result of Pasadena ISD incorporating the hosting of walk and bike to school events into their school health policies, contributing to the sustainability of SRTS efforts.

·         Equity: Equity considerations were included and prioritized throughout the SRTS Pasadena plan and recommendations. The SRTS Plan identified seven priority schools located in north Pasadena schools that did not offer bus service and students either had to walk or bike to school or be transported in a family vehicle. To reach the approximately 18% of residents in this area that do not speak English well, all educational and encouragement materials were developed in English and Spanish. Lastly, these selected schools have higher rates of poverty and low-income families so all SRTS events and resources were provided at no cost.

·         Enforcement: HLM-Pasadena and the SRTS team established a partnership with Pasadena Police Department to ensure the safety of students, families, and school staff during SRTS events and provide education and program materials to the community on ordinances related to pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Law enforcement was present at walk and bike to school days to assist with traffic management and event safety. In June 2020, the SRTS national partnership amended the 6 E's by dropping Enforcement and replacing it with Engagement.

·         Education: In order to highlight the importance of walkability, HLM-Pasadena and the SRTS team provided SRTS technical assistance and education to all district PE teachers and crossing guards, hosted community workshops on conducting walk audits, and led stakeholder workshops on planning for economic and fiscal health with an emphasis on walkable communities. The SRTS team also participated in community events to promote SRTS, to provide information on walk and bike safety and to distribute bike helmets and safety lights.

The Pasadena SRTS plan also included implementation recommendations and strategies based on feedback and input from parents, environmental assessments, the school district, Pasadena elected officials,  HLM-Pasadena Community Task Force members, and participants at community events and outreach opportunities, such as, health fairs and the Child Health Town Hall. Since completion of the Pasadena SRTS plan with strategies and recommendations, the SRTS team has continued to work with Pasadena ISD and HLM-Pasadena on SRTS efforts. Near-term commitments from the City of Pasadena include: 1) using its annual sidewalk maintenance budget to replace and repair sidewalks where possible; 2) incorporating pedestrian and bicyclist improvements in its Capital Improvement Plan projects where possible; and 3) exploring additional funding sources to improve infrastructure and promote active transportation. SRTS funding through the Pasadena Vibrant Community initiative also supported the creation of a school district staff member to support SRTS activities and other district health programs. Pasadena ISD has committed to maintaining this position after grant funding expires as they have witnessed the benefits that this program has for their students.

The success of the Pasadena SRTS program led to the opportunity to engage and begin SRTS efforts in Baytown in 2019. In partnership with the Be Well Baytown steering committee, a collaborative of 23 community organizations including GCCISD and the City of Baytown funded by MD Anderson Cancer Center, the SRTS team comprised of EPH's BE Unit and staff from NCDP Division, began a 3-year initiative to create SRTS and Safe Routes to Parks (SRTP) Plans. Baytown SRTS efforts are currently still in the engagement and planning phase, but the Baytown SRTS plan was completed in December 2020. The Baytown SRTS plan was developed for six priority elementary schools within GCCISD. According to a school district official, GCCISD serves 23,701 students on 28 campuses. A majority of the students (63%) are of Hispanic and Latino race/ethnicity, and 69% of the total student population is enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program. The Baytown SRTS plan identifies current barriers to walking and biking to school and offers tangible, implementable, and prioritized steps for addressing the barriers.

In June 2020, the SRTS National Partnership amended the 6 E's by dropping Enforcement and replacing it with Engagement. The Baytown SRTS plan will incorporate Enforcement within Education, Encouragement, and Engineering by creating a collaborative environment where parents, crossing guards, teachers, and law enforcement work together to promote safety awareness, safety education, and if needed, enforce traffic laws. Using the 6 E's model, the following activities have been completed to date:

·         Engagement: The SRTS team has built strong relationships with diverse stakeholders at different stages in the SRTS planning process. Collaboration with Be Well Baytown, GCCISD, the City of Baytown, Baytown Parks Department, and Baytown Planning Department have worked to maximize outreach and community guidance and assisted with efforts to develop the SRTS Baytown plan and recommendations. The next steps include comprehensive community engagement to promote SRTS, safe walking and biking, and opportunities for active transportation.

·         Equity: In the Baytown SRTS plan, equity measures have been used to identify priority schools and areas that may need additional resources, such as education materials, programming, and infrastructure improvements. Next steps include prioritizing outreach in communities of color and historically underserved areas as well as developing SRTS program materials and activities that reflect the community and culture within and around the schools.

·         Engineering: The SRTS team conducted infrastructure assessments using the EST in 2019. Using the findings and results from this assessment, a list of infrastructure and engineering recommendations were created and provided to the City of Baytown, GCCISD, and Harris County Engineering Department to create a safer walking and biking environment. The next steps include working with community partners and project stakeholders to explore the feasibility of protected or shared bike lanes as well as implementing tactical urbanism projects. Continued collaboration will need to occur to discuss implementation of recommended infrastructure improvements and to identify long-term funding opportunities.

·         Encouragement: Currently, community stakeholders and partners are working with GCCISD priority schools to host Walk to School Day events in the Spring of 2021. Next steps include developing a plan for school districts to monitor progress and evaluate SRTS success, develop recognition criteria to celebrate schools and champions who have excelled in their SRTS efforts, and create tools and techniques that schools can use to encourage students and parents to walk or bike outside of SRTS events.

·         Education: The SRTS team hosted a virtual SRTS training for GCCISD PE teachers in September 2020. The training provided an overview of SRTS and the Baytown SRTS plan, encouraged teachers to motivate students to meet physical education objectives, and offered tips for applying pedestrian and bicycle safety into virtual and in-person curriculum. The SRTS team has also presented at several informational events for Baytown community members and local community organizations. The next steps include hosting safety education and train the trainer events, presenting at School Health Advisory Council or PTO/PTA meetings, providing informational materials to parents, and informing the residents of Baytown about the opportunity and resources for reporting issues or concerns related to city infrastructure.

·         Evaluation: In order to create the SRTS plan, a number of initial evaluation activities were conducted between 2019 and early 2020, including parent perception surveys, infrastructure assessments, a neighborhood survey, principal interviews, and crossing guard surveys. This information was combined with data on GCCISD and student travel findings to create data-driven recommendations in the plan. The plan also includes future evaluation metrics to assess the success of the SRTS program after recommendations and activities have been implemented.

The SRTS team received funding from MD Anderson Cancer Center to create both SRTS plans and to implement education and encouragement activities in Pasadena and Baytown. Funding for the Pasadena SRTS program over one year totaled $77,500 and funded staff, training and technical assistance, engagement incentives, and materials and supplies. Funding for the Baytown Safe Routes program totals $265,000 over three years to fund both a Safe Routes to School plan and Safe Routes to Parks plan. The grant funds two additional program staff, purchase of promotional and educational materials for encouragement and education activities, technical assistance and training opportunities, mileage reimbursements and expenses related to data collection activities.

An evaluation for the Pasadena SRTS program is in progress with future meetings scheduled to formally evaluate the implementation of SRTS strategies and recommendations. Preliminary data from Pasadena ISD has indicated an increase in the number of walk and bike to school events as well as an increase in the number of students participating in these events. In the 2016-2017 school year, only two schools hosted a walk to school day. In the 2019-2020 school year, that number increased to 13 schools hosting events with 1,154 students participating. There were an additional six walks scheduled between March-May 2020 but were unable to occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first bike to school day was hosted in Spring of 2018 and the school has continued to independently host additional bike to school days. The increase in events is a direct result of Pasadena ISD incorporating the plan recommendation of hosting walk and bike to school events into their school health policies and speaks to the sustainability of SRTS programming and efforts. Through conversations with both the city and county planning and engineering offices, the SRTS team has been notified that the sidewalk and infrastructure recommendations are being utilized to allocate funding for annual sidewalk improvements and new installations. The SRTS team has also seen the installation of infrastructure improvements near two priority schools. Near Richey Elementary, a 1.3-mile section of Richey Street was redeveloped to improve drainage, widen sidewalks, improve crosswalks and signals, and improve the mid-block pedestrian crossing directly adjacent to Richey Elementary. This new esplanade features enhanced lighting and signage, a physical median, and a clear pedestrian space to improve safety for the children that walk to school daily. A new steel beam pedestrian bridge at Gardens Elementary was installed in 2018 and recently, the city completed new sidewalk connections from the bridge entrance to nearby sidewalks in the adjacent neighborhoods. These infrastructure improvements show the city's responsiveness and support for SRTS efforts across Pasadena. The SRTS team received funding in Fall 2020 to implement an artistic crosswalk contest, furthering the recommendation of installing artistic crosswalks near the priority schools included the SRTS plan.

The Pasadena SRTS plan includes evaluation metrics to review and assess the success of SRTS efforts in Pasadena and to ensure that the plan is meeting the CDC HI-5 initiative goals. The evaluation metrics include:

·         Collecting annual student transportation data from Pasadena ISD and compare findings across years

·         Collecting parent perception surveys every three years and entering the data into the National Safe Routes database

·         Conducting principal and facilities management interviews every three years to review ongoing support and sustainability for SRTS

·         Reviewing pedestrian and bicycle crash reports and data every five years

·         Monitoring sidewalk and infrastructure projects around the priority elementary schools every five years

The Pasadena SRTS plan has only been in place since 2018 and the evaluation strategies included in the plan are designed to be conducted at 1, 3 and 5-year intervals. The above preliminary results demonstrate the positive impact SRTS has had on the students and surrounding communities. This validates the CDC HI-5 initiative that results will come to fruition within five years.

The Baytown SRTS plan was completed in December 2020 and the strategies have yet to be implemented. As a result, the SRTS team is unable to evaluate implementation of SRTS efforts in Baytown. While a formal evaluation cannot yet be completed, the SRTS has received positive feedback as a result of the collaborative effort in creating the plan. In reviewing preliminary recommendations with the City of Baytown planning departments and Harris County Precinct 2 Engineering Office, they have indicated incorporating the SRTS recommendations into future city plans and the precinct will incorporate sidewalk recommendations into their next funding cycle. The sidewalk and environmental data and community feedback in determining where to focus future infrastructure improvements was valued by both departments. The plan also includes future evaluation metrics to measure the success of the SRTS program after recommendations and activities have begun and been completed. This evaluation plan includes:

·         Collecting annual student transportation data from GCCISD

·         Presenting Baytown SRTS updates regularly with stakeholders

·         Collecting parent perception surveys every three years and entering the data into the National Safe Routes database

·         Conducting principal and facilities management interviews every three years to review ongoing support and sustainability for SRTS

·         Reviewing pedestrian and bicycle crash reports and data every five years

·         Monitoring sidewalk and infrastructure projects around the priority elementary schools every five years

HCPH is committed to sustaining and growing SRTS programs and efforts across the county and the state. The key to sustaining an SRTS program is focusing on efforts that institutionalize SRTS activities in schools, promoting a culture of active transportation in communities and creating safe, convenient and fun opportunities for children to bike and walk to and from school.

The efforts in Pasadena have demonstrated that the equitable implementation of education, encouragement, and engineering strategies can make a difference in the number of students walking and biking to school while also effectively informing and influencing policy changes at the district, city and county level. The HLM – Pasadena work will transition over to the City of Pasadena's Parks and Recreation Department in January 2021 and will become the Pasadena Health Coalition, giving the city more ownership over their health and wellness efforts. The city will continue supporting Safe Routes to School as a priority strategy by improving walkability and bikeability. HCPH will continue to have a seat at the table, supporting as needed to ensure that efforts move forward. With continued monthly meetings, partners have an opportunity to engage in all projects, invest in sustainability, and maintain connections and ideas. MD Anderson Cancer Center invested in creating a Safe Routes to School Coordinator position for Pasadena ISD that advocates, teaches, and coordinates SRTS programming throughout the district. Pasadena ISD has seen the success and importance of this position and has committed to maintaining the position once grant funding expires, thus ensuring the sustainability of SRTS at the district level.

The SRTS team has already expanded SRTS efforts in Baytown establishing a partnership with City of Baytown, GCCISD, and other community organizations through Be Well Baytown. Similar to the transition in Pasadena, the SRTS team plans to facilitate a transition of SRTS activities, programming, and communications to GCCISD and the City of Baytown.

The SRTS team has been approached by Harris County Precinct 2, which covers both Pasadena and Baytown, to create a broader precinct wide SRTS Plan or explore opportunities to conduct additional focused SRTS Plans for the remaining ISDs within the precinct. Recently, the SRTS team approached the City of Houston to partner on a proposed SRTS opportunity within a new target population. The city was open and receptive to increasing their capacity and knowledge to implement SRTS within the City. This partnership will demonstrate the importance of having collaboration between a local health department and city agencies. HCPH has been invited to present at School Health Advisory Council meetings in various school districts across the county to showcase how HCPH can expand SRTS efforts by supporting new initiatives and programming. The SRTS team has also made strides in expanding efforts outside the county. In November 2019, two members of the SRTS team were flown to El Paso, TX by Texas Action for Healthy Kids to lead a one-day workshop on starting a SRTS program. The SRTS team members discussed key strategies, lessons learned, and successful elements of the Pasadena SRTS plan. They provided technical assistance on community partnerships, developing program goals, and identified initial steps to assist Action for Healthy Kids and local El Paso organizations to begin their own SRTS program. The feedback from the El Paso community was positive and they have since used the goals, list of potential partners, and initial strategies to draft a proposal for a strategic planning grant. The collaboration with Action for Healthy Kids in El Paso is one way to grow meaningful connections across organizations and foster sustainability for SRTS efforts and programs across the state. In October 2019, two members of the team presented at the Safe Routes to School national conference to share best practices and lessons learned with attendees from all over the nation. This conference also provided the SRTS team with best practices, resources, and tools to support SRTS efforts in Harris County.

While working with a team of partners to facilitate SRTS programming, including the walk or bike to school events, the SRTS team has learned a number of lessons, including the importance of evaluating events with participating partners and applying lessons learned to future events. For example, after implementation of a walk to school day, the coalition documented what went right about the event, such as getting an elected official to participate, and what improvements were needed, such as including more school officials in the planning process. The SRTS team then took these lessons and invited more partners to the table to help coordinate the next school-based event, a bike to school day. For the bike to school day, the PE teachers of the elementary school aided in a majority of the planning process.

The Baytown SRTS plan was drafted prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though COVID-19 has altered the way communities live, learn, work, worship, play and interact, the pandemic has shined a spotlight on the importance of walking and biking in communities across the country, as well as having safe spaces to walk and bike outdoors. This was a valuable lesson for the school districts as they were encouraged to reduce the number of students who ride the bus to school and create distance between children on school busses in compliance with CDC guidelines and recommendations.1 Implementing a SRTS program would help mitigate the effects of school districts decreasing school bus transportation. As a result of the pandemic, the SRTS team had to shift from in-person to virtual community outreach, collaboration, and educational trainings. The SRTS team maintained monthly virtual meetings with the Be Well Baytown Steering Committee in order to meet project objectives and timelines as well as maintain established relationships. The shift was made from scheduled in-person meetings to work on the Baytown SRTS plan to sharing the document and establishing a virtual method for writing, reviewing and sharing ideas for the SRTS Baytown plan. The SRTS team took this lesson and obstacle and developed new innovative ways to conduct community outreach and continue SRTS efforts in Baytown.

References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html