$211K grant will upgrade Blue Mtn. sidewalks

RIPLEY – The South Tippah School District has been awarded a $211,875 federal Safe Routes to School grant to repair substandard sidewalks near Blue Mountain School. The funds for the construction work were channeled thorough the Mississippi Department of Transportation. No local matching funds are required. The improvements are designed to encourage students to in grades K-8 to walk or ride their bicycles to school for exercise and health benefits, District Superintendent Frank Campbell said this week. It has not been determined when the project will go out for bids, the superintendent said. The program has drawn support from nearby Blue Mountain College, as well as Blue Mountain town officials, business leaders, as well as local, state and federal political leaders. Most echo the comments of Blue Mountain High School Principal Eddie Connor: “The safety and health of our students is our number one concern and priority as they and Blue Mountain College students walk to and from school. Needless to say, new sidewalks will provide a much safer route.” As a part of the program, Blue Mountain School has agreed to participate in an international Walk To School Day Oct. 8. The school will also begin the following programs: Neighborhood Watch, School Crossing Guards, Walking School Bus, trash pick-up, License to Walk at Sanders Park, and Bicycle Rodeo and License to Ride programs at the park. Blue Mountain College has been a major supporter of the federal Safe Routes to School program. The college will participate in programs to be started by Blue Mountain School. In addition, the college’s student teachers have begun a program where they will walk to Blue Mountain School to carry out their teaching assignments wherever possible instead of driving. Campbell expressed his appreciation to Blue Mountain College President Dr. Bettye Coward and her staff, Cookie Lefler, who is the Safe Routes to School coordinator with MDOT; and Northeast Planning and Development District Executive Director Sharon Gardner and her staff for their help in obtaining the grant. Blue Mountain School has 208 students in kindergarten through 8th grades. About 60 students live within a half-mile radius of school, 112 live within a mile radius, and 25 live from one to two miles from the school. Presently, about 24 students in grades 3-8 walk to and from school. About 37 youngsters arrive via private vehicle and 147 arrive on a bus, according to figures supplied by Campbell. “This is an effort to encourage the number of children walking from their homes to school and back each day. We recognize the need to change childhood as well as adult exercise habits for a healthier and more active lifestyle,” the superintendent said. “Blue Mountain School as a very unique situation where 65.9 percent of its students live within a two mile radius of its campus, making it the ideal area in which to incorporate this program,” he said. The Blue Mountain project was one of 14 such projects in Mississippi awarded for the work. In Northeast Mississippi, in addition to South Tippah, the city of Oxford, and town of Tishomingo also received funding for Safe Schools projects.

Hank Wiesner/Southern Sentinel