It has been about three years since students at Pine Ridge Elementary School took problem-based learning to a new level by studying the need for safer routes to and from school and sharing their findings with county officials.

On Wednesday, the school celebrated the grand opening of a new sidewalk, a significant part of that plan. School and district officials joined students, parents, and others in the community as they walked and biked on the new sidewalk to the school between 8:00 am. and 8:15 am.  They gathered for a brief ceremony in the cafeteria at 8:45 am.

East Ridge Middle School Principal Stephanie Mayuski, who was principal at Pine Ridge Elementary when the project started, was the guest speaker. Current Pine Ridge Elementary Principal Laine Obando led the ribbon cutting.

“I am thrilled to celebrate the grand opening of our new sidewalks,” Obando said. “Thanks to the innovation, dedication and commitment from students, teachers and community partners, we now have safe access for all walkers! What began as a problem based learning activity led to lifelong results for our community.”

The roots of the project date back several years. After hearing concerns from residents, the county’s Public Works Department completed a safety study for the intersection of CR 561 and Log House Road in 2012. They also had requests for sidewalks and began laying out a sidewalk plan to determine needs and available right of way.

Three years later, when Pine Ridge Elementary inquired about involving the students in a project to determine how to get sidewalks built, Public Works provided its concept plan for the school to use.

The students developed their projects, including costs.  Third, fourth and fifth-grade students used elements of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to study the safety issues near the school and develop solutions.

They began by surveying families in the surrounding communities and the student body. They used the data to prioritize the issues that prevent safe access such as a lack of sidewalks and a dangerous intersection with no traffic light. They took a “walking field trip” along the route walkers and bikers currently take to examine the issues more closely, then they worked in cross-grade-level groups to analyze and create solutions to the problems. They later presented their findings to the Board of County Commissioners, which was critical in achieving funding support for fiscal year 2017.

“Our students noticed a community need and took action,” Mayuski said. “Under the guidance of their teachers, they applied their learning and got tangible results that will benefit many generations to come. For a while now, I’ve watched the construction and beamed with pride as the project progressed. The learning, experience and reward of this work will last a lifetime for these students.”