By Juliana Gonzalez
Walking to school should be a stress free process. We all have idyllic images of happy kids skipping along the sidewalk along the caregivers sharing stories and enjoying the fresh air as they go back and forth from school to home or to their afterschool activities. Childhood should be filled with joy and imagination.
As we try to restore some sense of normalcy (after the pandemic) for all elementary students in the Richmond communities, we are ready to pitch in and do what we can to ensure that those moments of childhood wonder are joy. That is why after many years of dreaming of ways of making neighborhoods more child friendly and green, we are launching our partnership with the safe route to school program of the Contra Costa County Health Department.
We have secured funding to make the safe route to school from Verde Elementary to the Shields Ried after school program. This route is used by the walking school bus, which is facilitated by the Shields Reid center and run by staff and volunteers every afternoon. Over the years, this program has encountered many obstacles along the way, including trash, unkempt weeds that encroach on the sidewalk, lack of shade, and on two occasions the students have had to avoid the route due to gun violence.
Over the next year we are embarking on a process to make the route more child friendly and green. We are starting the process by installing a large stenciling art project along the route to delineate and clean the path. We held community charrettes with the afterschool program participants to choose a theme and the children chose the theme of a river filled with animals and other surprising objects that will be painted on the sidewalk. The water theme will be expressed in the form of water bubbles that set up a path and will have small spaces for animals hidden in the waves, such as turtles, fish, butterflies and other creatures. It will be set up as a scavenger hunt for the children to play as they walk. In the process of preparing the site for the paint day, a large effort has been made to clean the sidewalks and identify sources of trash and blite. Join us on April 22 and 23 for this exciting event (registration here).
Towards the end of the year, we will also identify opportunities for tree planting to provide shade and green along the route, and will work with neighbors to adopt a tree or a garden along the path.
We are excited to have a plan to help some of the problems that children encounter along the route and hope that with the beautification improvements we are implementing, the route will be playful and safe for the walking school bus to enjoy.