Students in Columbus City Schools are putting their best feet forward, as this week marks the beginning of the Safe Routes to School program in the district.

Students in Columbus City Schools are putting their best feet forward, as this week marks the beginning of the Safe Routes to School program in the district.

Six schools - four elementary schools and two middle schools - on the Hilltop and in Franklinton are participating in the federal initiative, which promotes pedestrian- and bicycle-safety education for children.

Columbus Public Health is administering a $148,719 grant and is contracting with a local organization, Consider Biking, to implement the program.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is considering a separate grant of $317,600 to pay for infrastructure improvements, including sidewalks, crosswalks and light beacons, said Herb Ligocki, ODOT's Safe Routes to School coordinator for District 6.

That decision will be made by the end of April, Ligocki said.

To qualify for funds, each school is required to create a travel plan for students who live within a 2-mile radius.

Jessica Mathews, who has been coordinating the program for Clintonville-based Consider Biking, said in recent weeks she has been visiting schools and showing students the safe routes.

For the next eight weeks, she will spend time with each school teaching students how to properly wear a bike helmet, cross the street and dress in bright colors.

She also is recruiting parents and volunteers to vigilantly reinforce the safety theme.

"I am totally optimistic about it," she said. "The dozen-plus volunteers I've recruited are excited about finally formally organizing something."

She said travel plans have been approved for five additional schools.

"We want to eventually blanket the district all at once," Mathews said.

Brenda Severs, physical education teacher at Valleyview Elementary School on the Hilltop, said fewer than 20 kids walk to school and no one rides a bicycle because students and parents view it as unsafe. The school has no sidewalks in front, she said.

However, the students seem enthusiastic about the program, despite the conditions around the school building, she said. They've been wearing fluorescent orange-and-yellow vests to increase awareness and talking to people in the neighborhood, Severs said.

"It's mud and grass (out front), so we're trying to get people excited so we can get some sidewalks and people who want to walk," she said.