Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention
Ontario Active School Travel Grant – Update and Final Activities
Supported by a grant from Green Communities Canada (GCC), the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in partnership with school boards, transportation services, municipalities, and police services has been developing policies, enviromental supports, and programming to promote active school travel in Windsor and Essex County amidst staff and resource allocation during the pandemic response. The Ontario Active School Travel (OAST) grant was awarded to the health unit in the amount of $60,000 to be used between January 2021 and June 2022. In order to operationalize this grant funding, the health unit created an Active School Travel (AST) Regional Committee which oversees the implementation of activities and use of the OAST grant funds to promote active travel in schools across the City of Windsor and Essex County.
PREVIOUS AND CURRENT INITIATIVES:
To date, funding has supported the hiring of an Active Travel (AT) Planner to assist schools and boards in implementing plans and coordinating community education and outreach. The AT Planner has assisted in the creation of the AST Regional Committee, identification of the initial six pilot schools, and establishing “champions” at each school to liaise with project staff on the implementation of interventions. The AT Planner has created an orientation package for school representatives, conducted a baseline asssessment of active transportation behaviours amongst students in each school, and serves as the Chair for individual school planning meetings.
In addition to maintaining the collaborative functions mentioned above, the AT Planner has also conducted a review of best practices for implementing active school travel interventions and has determined areas of opportunity for policy enhancement through a review of AT policies at the school board and municipal levels. As this is the third round of funding for the OAST grant, the AT Planner reviewed previously developed resources which could be repurposed and distributed to local pilot schools and board representatives. This process also helped to identify gaps which could be addressed through locally developed education materials. These materials (e.g., web based toolkits and seasonal AT safety promotions) were subsequently developed and shared with school board representatives and shared with all local schools.
As part of the grant activities, Windsor Police Service led walk-ability and bike-ability assessments at each pilot school during the 2021 school year. Several members of the AST Regional Committee along with principals, teachers, and parents were present for these assessments. The assessments helped to identify safe and accessible routes to and from school considering the built environment, traffic, and different modes of transportation as contributing factors in promoting active school travel. At the time of writing this report, summaries which highlight the results of these assessments and include tangible suggestions for intervention are being developed to be shared with each of the pilot schools.
With sustainability of the interventions enabled by this funding as a primary priority of both the funding agencies and the health unit, one of the most impactful initiatives contained and actioned as part of this grant was the creation of a Active School Travel Charter (ASTC). The ASTC was developed to serve as a statement of principles to guide schools, school boards, municipalities, student transportation services, and other community partners in decision-making around the built environment. As the ASTC has already been endorsed by the Board of Health and the City of Windsor, the AST Regional Committee will also be seeking endorsement from the County of Essex in the coming weeks.
As the project approaches the end of its funding cycle, remaining project activities will be completed prior to June of this year. Project funding will be allocated toward the purchase of new bike racks and other forms of equipment storage so that students attending pilot schools can feel confident that their equipment will be safe during the school day. Pilot schools will be engaging students through a crosswalk painting event to highlight and enhance school crosswalks. Cycling safety and training sessions will be provided through partnership with Bike Windsor-Essex (a local cycling advocacy agency) to teach students proper biking skills and techniques, and a media launch event will also be held concurrently with these sessions in order to acknowledge the activities supported through the grant and implemented through engagement with the schools.
Once all project activities have been completed, the AST Regional Committee will develop the sustainability plan for AST within the community beyond what could be offerred through the one-time grant funding. Post-intervention assessments will also measure changes in attitudes and behaviour toward AT in the pilot schools relative to the baseline assessment as a way in which to detemined the effectiveness of these interventions.