Local law enforcement officers teamed up with the Pickerington Local School District over the past two weeks to encourage students to walk or bike to class.

Local law enforcement officers teamed up with the Pickerington Local School District over the past two weeks to encourage students to walk or bike to class.

On the morning of Sept. 16, students from Harmon Middle School and Fairfield Elementary gathered at the corners of Saratoga Lane and Brentwood Farms Drive and Birchwood Street and Cambridge Way with Fairfield County sheriff's deputies before walking to their respective schools.

A week later, on Sept. 23, it was Sycamore Creek Elementary and Diley Middle School students' turn as they met with Pickerington police officers at Coventry Avenue and Houndsale Drive, and at Waterton Drive and Timberbank Circle and then proceeded to class.

It was all part of the first "Walk-with-a-Cop" program, a partnership among the district, the city of Pickerington and Pickerington police, Violet Township and the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office.

The program's goal is to encourage students to walk and bike to school. It also was a prelude to the "Safe Routes to Schools" program, which was developed by the Ohio Department of Transportation and will be implemented next year as multiuse paths to local schools are constructed.

"We want to encourage children to both walk and ride bicycles to make for a healthier and safer community," Pickerington Police Commander Ralph Portier said. "We also want parents to know it's safe for their children to walk and bike to schools."

Last April, ODOT awarded $3.7-million in federal transportation funds to 13 communities to build multiuse paths, bike racks and sidewalks near schools, and to improve lighting and signs near school zones.

Pickerington received $248,021 for infrastructure improvements and $43,530 for educational materials and events to encourage walking and biking to schools.

Currently, local officials are exploring design alternatives to connect a path from Pine Ridge Estates to Pickerington Elementary.

Plans also are in place to construct a sidewalk loop from Fairfield Elementary south to Coventry Avenue. From there, the sidewalk would go south to Houndsdale Drive and continue west to Stonecreek Drive and north to Oxford Drive, before connecting back to the school.

Additionally, a multiuse path is planned from Diley Middle School to the Manchester subdivision.

"We'll get started with construction next year," said Peggy Portier, a local Safe Routes to Schools committee member and wife of Ralph Portier. "After July 1, we can actually spend the money.

"We're getting there," she said. "We're excited about having the grant application approved and we're ready to go."

In addition to "Walk-with-a-Cop," the district plans to provide educational materials to students this year to encourage safe walking and biking. Bike helmets will be distributed to every fifth- and sixth-grader at Harmon, Diley and Toll Gate middle schools this year, and fifth-graders are expected to receive helmets in the 2010-11 school year.

"We're hoping to promote all types of transportation alternatives, from biking and walking to running and roller skating," Peggy Portier said. "Well, it's rollerblading now. We're developing maps that will go to the kids with recommended walking routes.

"It's a 100-percent grant. It's fabulous. Usually, there's a matching portion that's required locally, but not here."

Commander Portier said the "Walk-with-a-Cop" days were a new experiment for his department, but one he hopes students can appreciate. He also hopes parents will feel comfortable with allowing their children to abandon motorized means of getting to school.

"The whole thing is to promote safety and to let these kids know it's good to walk, and healthy," he said. "It's fun. We also want to give parents peace of mind."