Trust The Process
Melissa Cherry; School Programs Coordinator
This year’s Walk to School Day event was my orientation to Walk Bike Nashville. As the newest addition to the team, I was overwhelmed at the idea of planning a city-wide event, but excited by the opportunity to connect people and places with one another. What I came to realize was that when you trust the process of community building, the outcome will always outshine your expectations!
All MNPS Elementary schools are invited to join Walk to School Day and signing up allows schools to join a Zoom-based workshop to share best practices, receive two “Walk to School Day” shirts for staff organizers, and “I Walked to School Day” stickers for all students that participate. Through the city-wide planning sessions, I found that at least a dozen of the 50 schools that participated this year were unable to meet off-property and walk due to lack of infrastructure. Instead, they had to walk with students within campus grounds. In years past, this was also the case for our highlight school, Shwab Elementary.
We knew that Shwab would need improved infrastructure because they are located on Dickerson Road, which offers no pedestrian protections outside of one crossing guard facilitated crosswalk directly in front of the school. Sidewalks are not present and speeds are prohibitive of safe walking. Shwab staff has always held Walk to School Day celebrations on the premises; so instead of walking to school, they have been walking at school.
So we got to work: Identifying the ways that the Nashville Department of Transportation (NDOT) and Multimodal Infrastructure could reinforce existing crosswalks, and where we may be able to expand their “radius of safety” (a measurement of walkability that includes both infrastructure and sensory metrics). Vegetation was trimmed back along the path, a new crosswalk was added in the neighborhood, and posts were added to the crosswalk leading to the school on Dickerson Pike. This helped to add some protection for pedestrians and the crossing guard. We found that the streets that do have sidewalks connect Shwab to Trinity Community Commons, a thriving community resource center housed in a former Methodist Church.
Using anonymized attendance maps provided by MNPS, we saw that Trinity Community Commons is about the same distance from Shwab as they are to Tom Joy Elementary.any students choose their school not based on zoning, but on safe routes to school. Some students that are zoned for Tom Joy still go to Shwab because that’s where they have relationships with teachers from older siblings, and some go to charter schools because they provide safe transportation to school each day (something not provided by MNPS due to proximity to the school). More than anything, we saw that connecting these schools, their routes, and their neighborhoods would bring the event to life so we started knocking on doors and inviting neighbors into the conversation.
Trinity Community Commons’ weekly potluck offered the ideal space and environment to consult and plan. We invited Tom Joy into the planning process and we engaged neighbors alongside school representatives and NDOT staff. Along the way, we found out that although the current staff at Tom Joy has never participated in Walk to School day, they were one of the first schools to participate when Walk Bike Nashville started celebrating the event in the 90’s! We also learned that one sidewalk in the neighborhood, on Queen Avenue, was installed because a Tom Joy teacher led a walking school bus down the route and advocated for its installation. Being able to root our efforts in the recognition of those that came before us made everything feel more organic and manageable, like a natural extension of community advocacy.
On the day of Walk to School Day, we had more volunteers, more schools, and so much more to celebrate than ever before! The value of community engagement was never more clear than when our audio system cut out halfway through our program. One of the neighbors that we met through Trinity Commons silently went to work, repairing the system just before Mayor Freddie O’Connell started his remarks.
As I looked across the gathering area at Trinity Community Commons, it became clear that this day was something special. About fifty students from Tom Joy Elementary arrived and were mingling with over a hundred Shwab Elementary students, thoroughly entertaining one another. Volunteers from the neighborhood, sponsor partnerships, and our own Walk Bike member base brought all of their smiling faces out before the sun made its appearance and now their faces shone with excitement too!
Bringing in the voices of the most impacted and elevating their needs inspired new infrastructure, more connection, and a more sustainable route forward based on new relationships formed along the way! Trust the process.
Check out more shots of the day on our Facebook Page!
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