Holly Hullena from the Wairarapa Road Safety Council, Fernridge School principal Janine Devonport, and Masterton District Council rural roading engineer Alec Birch. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Fernridge’s walking school bus takes top award

Emily Ireland

Cars reaching speeds of up to 85kmh past Solway Primary School last month shocked the community.

So, what makes a posted speed limit of 80kmh past Fernridge School acceptable?

Fernridge, a rural school just five minutes away from Solway Primary is making waves in road safety, having won an award at a national level for their Walking School Bus initiative.

But with a speed limit of 80kmh past the school, there’s only so much that can be done to keep their pupils safe.

Principal Janine Devonport said she often raised her hands with despair while out on crossing duty.

“How we have not had a fatality or at least a major pile up due to impatience is beyond me,” she said.

“It is just ridiculous.”

Masterton District Council rural roading engineer Alec Birch agreed with the frustrated principal and said a permanently lowered speed limit at the school would be safer, “but a tricky one”.

There is a bright yellow sign at each end indicating people go 40kmh when children are present.

But Birch said the best way to ensure drivers did slow down was to “squeeze the speed out of them” with road features like kea crossings.

Kea crossings are manned crossing points which run before and after school hours and involve school patrol stop signs which swing out on to the road.

“When the school is finished with its various ongoing construction, we will have a sit down to discuss safety options,” Birch said.

“But we have to have a consistent policy across all the rural schools.”

He said a speed limit review was under way nationally which would evaluate speed limits on rural roads and limits around schools.

For the time being, Fernridge will focus on celebrating their latest achievement in road safety.

They were presented with a Golden Foot award in Parliament at the end of last month for their Walking School Bus initiative.

The initiative, which kicked off a few years ago was launched to combat “parents’ fears” of their little ones walking to school.

It is a “safety in numbers” approach to young people learning to get to school independently and involves a group of new entry pupils meeting at a designated point on Upper Plain Rd and walking 1.2km to school together.

The pupils, supervised by a parent or teacher, follow a path that runs alongside the 80kmh road.

Holly Hullena from the Wairarapa Road Safety Council said what stood out about the school’s nomination for the Golden Foot Award was that they had used a model of walking school buses which had been “predominantly used in an urban environment”.

“I think that is a fantastic effort for little feet.

“Hayley Inder the teacher and mother at Fernridge School wanted to allow her students to walk to school and engage in the senses of doing so.

“What could they see, hear, smell, tasting the fresh country air.

“She also wanted to encourage conversation on the way to school and allow a relaxing way to get their brains ready for a day of learning.”

Hullena said as a result Fernridge was doing something “different than other rural schools, and they are setting a precedence in Wairarapa for what is going to become a reality for more and more schools down the track”.

She said the initiative had also eased congestion outside the school gate.

Devonport said she was not aware the school had even been nominated for the Golden Foot award until she received a nomination acceptance email.

“I thought it was spam mail or that it had been sent to the wrong school.

She said winning the award was “very overwhelming”.

“It’s a massive partnership with the community and council, and it’s a whole lot of work that you just keep doing because it needs to be done – you don’t do it for the awards or recognition”.

The walking awards, organised by Living Streets Aotearoa, celebrate and recognise New Zealand achievements for walkers by acknowledging innovative new facilities, highlighting national best practice and rewarding ongoing commitment to walking and pedestrians.

The awards are for private companies and public organisations, not-for-profit groups, community organisations and individuals.

Fernridge School was one of 140 nominations submitted nationwide.