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December 19, 2014

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Students get bikes as reward for walking to school

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Leila Navidi

Fred Peters, the grandfather of a student, directs traffic at Paiute Peak Avenue and Gagnier Boulevard after classes at Wright Elementary School in southwest Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.

Wright Elementary School Traffic

Fred Peters, the grandfather of a student, directs traffic at Paiute Peak Avenue and Gagnier Boulevard after classes at Wright Elementary School in southwest Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Feeling the wind brush your face. Watching the streamers flapping from the ends of your handlebars. Hearing the click-click-click of a playing card hitting tire spokes.

They’re memories for many kids across many generations, and now two more children at William V. Wright Elementary School will have the same memories after winning bikes as a reward for walking to school.

In 1969, 48 percent of students in kindergarten through eighth grade walked or bicycled to school, according to a report from the National Center for Safe Routes to School.

In 2009, only 13 percent of students did.

It’s a concern not only because of growing childhood obesity rates, but because of increasing congestion in school zones. School officials say if they can reduce the number of parents who drive their children to school, it will be safer for those who walk and bike.

They especially hope it will be true at Wright Elementary.

The largest elementary school in the Clark County School District, Wright has some of the district’s worst traffic problems. The layout of the streets around the school, near Blue Diamond Road and Durango Drive, complicates the problem.

A Las Vegas Sun story in late October detailed how one grandfather at the school, Fred Peters, is fighting the problem.

Since then, a number of high-profile accidents have brought pedestrian safety into the spotlight, but things have only changed slightly at Wright.

Peters organized a campaign called Win on Wednesdays. Students were asked to walk or bike to school every Wednesday in November.

An average of 149 of the 1,125 students did so. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s not bad compared to a similar effort last year, when just 87 students participated during the entire month.

The impact of the increase in walking and biking is difficult to measure, but both Peters and Principal Carol Erbach said traffic seemed to be less of a problem on the designated days.

Parent volunteers stood on the street corners around the school and passed out pencils to the students on foot or bikes. The children could then take the pencils to the office to have them sharpened and enter their name in a drawing for donated prizes.

The campaigned concluded with an assembly Monday morning at which students sat quietly waiting to see who won; some sat with crossed fingers until the last name was called.

Two students were awarded bicycles, four got scooters, two were given gift cards donated by Walgreens and nine received water bottles.

At the start of the assembly, Erbach asked why the students were being encouraged to walk and bike to school.

It took a little prodding to get the right answer.

“If everyone walks or bikes to school, what happens at our dismissal?” she asked.

“There’s less traffic,” a student volunteered.

“What is one of our biggest priorities for each and every one one of you at Wright Elementary School?” Erbach asks.

“Safety,” another student answered.

Since late October, Metro and School District police have spent extra time ticketing parents who park illegally or commit other driving infractions before and after school.

There is also now a third crossing guard near the school, at the intersection of Durango Drive and Bob Fisk Avenue.

But there haven’t been any more parents volunteering to direct traffic and manage crosswalks, Erbach said.

Lots of parents offer to spend time in the classroom with teachers, which is appreciated, she said. But, other than Peters, few have stepped forward to help with the congestion around campus.

“With nearly 1,200 kids, I can’t imagine we don’t have at least 10 parents who can do that,” she said.

Peters is humble about his own contribution and said he understands many parents work and can’t help all the time — it was the same way for him before he retired — but the lack of parent participation bothers him.

“I can’t understand a parent who sits at home when there’s a chance to participate in this and doesn’t,” he said. “I just don’t understand.”

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