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Oroville School Promotes Health, Safety With $940K Infrastructure Grant

Sarah Bohannon
Kids danced, ran and bounded to music as they circled the school's field – many with their parents – during a Walk to School Day celebration on Friday Oct. 9, 2015 at Oakdale Heights Elementary School in Oroville.";s:

At least 20 schools celebrated Walk to School Day in the North State last week, but kids from Oakdale Heights Elementary School in Oroville had an a extra boost in their step as they made the morning trek.

That day they were strolling on new sidewalks that were recently installed to make their walk to school safer. The school decided to celebrate the newly paved additions with a big bash.

Credit Sarah Bohannon / NSPR
Teachers and students at Oakdale Heights Elementary School in Oroville perform a dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thiller,” on Friday Oct. 9, 2015 as part of the school’s Walk to School Celebration.

Music was playing as kids were dancing, running and bounding around a field in back of the school – many with their parents – who had come out for the celebration.

The kid/parent laps actually happen monthly at Oakdale Heights. The class that circles the field the most gets to be the monthly keepers of a special award – a huge, gold spray-painted shoe. It’s a coveted campus trophy.

That’s just a taste the kinds of activities the school has in place to get kids more physically active. But this celebration was a little different. Not only was the school celebrating annual Walk to School Day – which highlights walking as a healthy activity and promotes walking safety – but they were also celebrating the infrastructure project, which was long awaited.

Elisa Huru, a third grade teacher at Oakdale Heights said she was very excited for the new infrastructure in front of the school.

“We’ve got crosswalks and sidewalks,” Huru said. “It’s a dream around here.”

The project ended up spanning about a mile and consisted of sidewalks, crosswalk enhancements – like flashing beacons – and speed signs. Huru said before the new infrastructure was put in, the area really wasn’t safe for kids to walk to school.

Credit Sarah Bohannon / NSPR
Kids walk to school on newly paved sidewalks during a Walk to School Celebration on Friday Oct. 9, 2015 at Oakdale Heights Elementary School in Oroville.

“Kids were walking in the mud,” Huru said because much of the road didn’t have a shoulder or a sidewalk. 

Oakdale Heights principal, Rick Desimone, painted an even scarier picture. He said because of the lack of infrastructure sometimes kids would end up walking in the road. Desimone said that fact – coupled with the new drivers who pass the school to get to high school down the street – made the previous walking situation an accident waiting to happen.

“I think we were lucky,” Desimone said. “We were lucky. And now we’re fortunate to have the infrastructure that we do have.” 

Most of the people I talked to felt that way – fortunate. Not only for the infrastructure, but also for the collaboration with the county departments that helped secure the project and really made it possible.  

UC CalFresh – which is run out the UC Cooperative Extension – as well as Butte County Public Health both have a strong presence at Oakdale Heights. They’re actually the ones who started the monthly parent/kid walks. They also bring other health related education to the school including kids’ farmers markets, gardening and bike safety.

“So it’s been a very beneficial partnership with all of these programs for us here at school,” Desimone said.

According to Ann Dickman, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Director at Butte County Public Health, nowadays schools need that kind of partnership to get Safe Routes to School funding, which is what paid for the recent project at Oakdale Heights.

“Now Caltrans is requiring there to be essentially boots on the ground in these schools,” Dickman said. “And that there’s a relationship between the schools and Public Works and others, and a collaborative approach to safety and the infrastructure project.”  

Dickman was one of the county officials to help secure the $940,000 grant with Butte County Public Works, who carried out the work and provided additional funding for some road repairs around the school.

Credit Sarah Bohannon / NSPR
Oakdale Heights Elementary School’s coveted campus trophy – a gold spray-painted shoe. The class that walks the most laps around the school’s filed during its monthly kid/parent walking events gets to temporarily keep the award in their classroom.

Butte County is currently trying to help secure similar grants for other area schools. At least one has already been awarded to Biggs Elementary School. Two other grants are in the approval process. One would be for Chapman Elementary School in Chico. The other would actually expand the recent work at Oakdale Heights. It would extend the new infrastructure the full length of Las Plumas Avenue from Lincoln Boulevard to Lower Wyandotte Road. Some work would also be done on Monte Vista Avenue.

The work’s expansion would benefit kids at quite a few Oroville schools that are clustered in the area: Oakdale Heights, Las Plumas High School, Helen Wilcox Elementary School and Golden Hills Elementary School.