KILAUEA — About a dozen Kilauea School students, parents, school and public-safety officials joined Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami Thursday along a new route recently created to better guarantee the safety of students walking to school.
The march began at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center and was designed to mimic the route of a school bus with a main group of kids and adults picking up small groups of children and some of their parents along the way.
Eventually, the route turned onto Kamalii Street, which was recently switched from two lanes of traffic to one-way westbound for motor vehicles with a full lane marked off for exclusive use of pedestrians and bicyclists traveling in both directions.
Since Kamalii was switched to one-way for cars and trucks several months ago, said Bev Brody, director of Get Fit Kauai —which advocates for improving physical fitness of people islandwide — the number of adults who feel the need to physically accompany children who walk to school has seemingly declined, as parents’ confidence in the safety of Kamalii as a route to school has increased.
Residents of the street have noticed the same thing.
“Walking to school is related to academic achievement. There have been studies that show that better physical conditioning lets kids do better in school,” Brody said as she walked along with Kawakami, Capt. Rod Green of the Kauai Police Department and Deputy Chief Kilipaki Vaughan of the Kauai Fire Department.
Principal Sherry Gonsalves, also among the walkers, said the nexus between academic performance and physical fitness is so clearly established that the school encourages kids who live in locations too far away from school to walk to arrive early and spend a half hour or so walking around the school basketball court.
“Obesity is a huge problem on our island,” Brody said, “and getting children to think more in terms of physical fitness has to pay dividends in virtually every aspect of their lives.”
Kawakami was one of the pioneers of the Safe Routes to School program when, in 2012, he introduced legislation that set up a statewide program to encourage counties to create safer routes for kids to school. Kawakami was a member of the state House of Representatives when he introduced the Safe Routes to School bill.
“It was not an idea that was invented in Honolulu,” he said. “It came from the streets. It came from constituents asking us to find better and less-dangerous ways for children to get to school.”
The Kamalii route takes kids and parents to the rear entrance of Kilauea School. The front entry street address is on nearby Kolo Road, where vehicle speeds can be high. Gonsalves said that early positive results of the new route established by the modifications to Kamalii Street have already led her to apply for funds to build about 200 feet of new sidewalk on Kolo Road and along the school driveway that could help encourage safe walking there.
Gonsalves had hoped that money for the project might be allocated in time for the August start of this year’s classes, but the bureaucracies in question were unable to move quickly enough to meet that objective. Now, she said, she is hoping for approval in time for construction to occur near the middle of the school year.
“We know that better physical conditioning results in better performance in the classroom,” she said. “Just walking a short distance to school can have positive academic results.”
The new run of sidewalk was suggested by Bill Troutman, the grandfather of a Kilauea School student and longtime community activist. Troutman volunteers at the school entrance each morning helping to keep traffic moving as parents drop off their kids.
KPD’s Green said the police department has supported Safe Routes to School projects because, if they are successful, they can induce more kids to get to school under their own power and, accordingly, cut the volume of vehicle traffic around schools.
“That alone can help make kids safer,” he said.
Amy Bilcich, whose daughter goes to Kilauea School and was also participating in the walking-school-bus concept, said a major idea behind the project is to make children feel safer as they go to school. She said the Kilauea program has been so successful that walk-to-school days, which occur at Kilauea School each month, have become occasions to which children look forward.
On the day each month set aside to promote walking and biking to school, Gonsalves has a special assembly program to recognize children who walk to school on that day. There is recognition among their friends and prizes are awarded to further encourage participation.
Allan Parachini, journalist, furniture-maker, Kilauea resident and retired public relations executive, writes periodically for The Garden Island.