Mac student initiative promotes sustainable, colourful school routes

Four students at a table set up outside the school with art supplies and signs saying

McMaster SUSTAIN 3S03 students worked with community organization Daily School Route (DSR) to promote active school travel at an elementary school in downtown Hamilton.

To change a daily habit like travelling to school, sometimes you need to draw attention to it.

McMaster SUSTAIN 3S03 students worked with community organization Daily School Route (DSR) to promote active school travel at Strathcona Elementary School in downtown Hamilton.

Strathcona students used sidewalk chalk to decorate their routes to school, creating a sense of place and connection to their community.

A school zone sign above a sidewalk covered in chalk drawings
Students at the elementary school downtown drew on the sidewalk outside their school with chalk (Photo by Kate Whalen)

“Because so many students are being driven to school, we see traffic congestion and safety hazards in the school zone,” explains Dan Chong from DSR, a community organization with a mission to see 100 per cent of kids actively walk or wheel to school.

“More families walking and biking means increased safety, [a stronger sense of] community, and improved physical and mental health.”

The project is part of the McMaster students’ SUSTAIN 3S03 course on Implementing Sustainable Change.

Students Jenna Liegghio (Science), Julia Ungureanu (Engineering), Krisha Desai (Science) and Mia Le (Commerce) focused on planning and executing the chalk event at the school, held Oct. 25.

Marwa F. Kamakh (Science), Eden Cassidy (Commerce), Pratha Bhat (Engineering) and Rachel Gallagher (Social Sciences) engaged and communicated with parents before and after the chalk event.

Tables set up outside an elementary school with art supplies, posters and snacks
McMaster students provided elementary school children with chalk, local apples and bubbles.

“I walked to school every day, and I loved the time with my friends,” says Gallagher. “We know that walking to school allows kids to engage socially and gain independence, and active school travel ensures those opportunities are available to them daily.”

Following chalk activities, students were given a colourful footprint cutout with three simple survey questions about their experience walking to school. The results demonstrated that a majority of students felt proud that they walked to school that day.

Sixty per cent of students expressed that they were proud of their participation and 58 per cent of them believed their friends would walk to school more often following the event.

Additionally, the majority of students agreed that their parents would be supportive of them walking to school. The footprints were used to create a mural at the school’s entrance.

A table full of colourful markers, chalk and footprint cutouts for elementary school students.
Colourful markers and footprint cutouts with a survey question for elementary school students to share how the experience will impact their desire to walk to school.

“What our kids created is a visual reminder that this space is for them, and we need to work together with families to keep it friendly and safe for our kids,” — Ms. Simpson, Strathcona Elementary teacher

After monitoring driving behaviour before and after the event, McMaster students found fewer drop-offs in front of the school and a sizeable increase in the use of alternative drop-off areas.

“Engaging parents to use alternative drop-off locations was essential to reduce congestion, improve safety, and increase active travel to school,” says Kamakh.   

McMaster students are finalizing a toolkit to share with all Hamilton schools, to support more events like this across the city.

“We want to create an inclusive toolkit such that every student, no matter the neighbourhood or circumstances, can have an experience like this,” says Ungureanu.

This project was funded in part with the generous support of Hazelview Properties.

Click here to learn more about McMaster’s Academic Sustainability Programs Office and student experiential learning projects, or follow @MacSustain on Instagram.

Click here to connect with DSR, or follow @DailySchoolRoute on Instagram.