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Santa Ana Families Improve the Walking Conditions Around Fremont Elementary School and El Salvador Park

Walk to School Day
Fremont Elementary School students walking to school on International Walk to School Day (2017) and proudly showing off the walking school bus banners that they decorated.

The Need: Challenge

Within Orange County (OC), Fremont Elementary School falls in the top 10% of schools for bike and pedestrian injuries (Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System). Families have expressed concerns about traffic and personal safety through Walkability Checklists. In addition, 90.6% of Fremont students are considered low-income. This is based on receiving free/reduced lunch. According to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, youth from low-income neighborhoods are nearly twice as likely to be injured while walking. 

Based on California Fitness Testing data, almost one-third of Fremont 5th graders are considered overweight or obese. This is higher than the county average of 17.8%. Student walking tallies showed that only 30% of Fremont students walk to school. Walking to school is one of the easiest ways to be active. Along with healthy eating, it can also help maintain a healthy weight.  

This combination of factors makes Fremont a prime candidate for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) obesity prevention work. 

The Work: Solution

The SRTS team understood the approach needed to promote walking. It needed to include policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) changes that make walking safer.  

Cal Fresh Healthy Living (CFHL - formerly Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention, NEOP) staff chose Fremont Elementary School as a site that could benefit from an obesity prevention program. Ideal efforts would promote both healthy eating and physical activity.  

SRTS is a comprehensive approach that creates safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for students to walk and bike to school. As implemented here in Orange County, it is part of overall obesity prevention. It promotes healthy eating and regular physical activity. SRTS is evidence-based. The Centers for Disease Control recognizes SRTS as a strategy 

proven to increase the number of students who walk and bike to school. It also reduces pedestrian injuries.  

Below are SRTS activities that took place with Fremont Elementary School: 

In Fall 2017, the OC Health Care Agency sponsored a Resident Leadership Academy (RLA). Community partners helped plan and teach the series of lessons. At the RLA, Champion Moms learned about different health topics. They learned advocacy skills to improve their community’s health. After learning about Walkable Communities, participants wanted to improve walking conditions around Fremont Elementary School and a nearby park. As a first step, CFHL staff teamed up with the school and school district on a Walk to School Day event to celebrated walking. A Champion Mom participated in the event. CFHL staff hosted a ReThink Your Drink booth. The booth encouraged drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.  One month later, Fremont students and families conducted a walk audit, led by CFHL staff. They wanted to see how walkable their neighborhood is for students. They took photos of things that made it hard to walk or bike to school. The students then presented their observations to their community. This included the City of Santa Ana, parents, the school, and the Artesia Pilar Neighborhood Association. They wanted changes that would make them feel safer about their children walking to school. A Champion Mom shared her concerns, too.  

To complement SRTS activities at the school, CFHL staff provided five nutrition lessons to parents on healthy eating.  

The Impact: Results

Following the students’ presentation, many changes were made to enhance safety and support walking and biking. 

Environmental Changes on routes to school: 

  • Repaired sidewalks
  • Repainted crosswalks, stop crossbars, and lane markings
  • Repaired trip hazards
  • Graffiti removal
  • Cleanup of vacant lot
  • A Public Works-led study of unsafe driving on four streets

Environmental Changes at El Salvador Park:  

  • Improved playground lighting
  • Replaced playground sand
  • Landscaping
  • Graffiti removal
  • Bathroom sink repairs and maintenance
  • Repairs to cracked concrete on athletic courts

Policy and systems changes: 

  • The Santa Ana Unified School District added SRTS language into their Wellness Policy.
  • Fremont Elementary started a Walking School Bus program. This program is community-led with students walking safely together to school with adult supervision.

Increase in students walking and biking to school: 

  • Increased from 30% to 37% (representing a 23% increase)
  • Based on student classroom tallies (2017 and 2018)

Additional impacts on students: 

  • Students gained public speaking experience.
  • Students learned research skills.
  • Students learned about the civic process in their city.
  • Students received nutrition education.
  • Students learned about the health benefits of walking to and from school.

Grant funding to the City of Santa Ana to make more improvements: 

  • The City of Santa Ana applied for and was awarded $7.2 million dollars by the State of California’s Active Transportation Program.
  • Nearly five million dollars (of the $7.2 million) funded improvements around Fremont Elementary School.
  • These funds supported two SRTS projects.
  • Check out this news clip ( to see students who participated in this project talk about the outcome.
  • The City of Santa Ana continues to seek grant opportunities to improve walking and biking conditions throughout the city.

This project highlights a community collaborative process that has helped increase physical activity among Fremont elementary students and families.


To get involved or learn more about SRTS contact:

Megan Beard:, (714) 667-8336
Maria Minaglia:, (714) 834-6770


Walk 2 School Day - Alhambra, CaliforniaStudent-Led Advocacy for a Safe and Healthy Environment at Ruby Drive Elementary School

Walking to and from school is one of the easiest ways to increase daily physical activity and, along with healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight. Safety has been a concern for parents of students at Ruby Drive after a child was hit by a car as she crossed the street. According to local data, Ruby Drive has one of the highest rates of pedestrian collisions in Orange County. 
As part of Safe Routes to School implementation, 105 students and parents completed the National Walkability Checklist to assess their walk to school.  The most commonly cited issue was not having enough room to walk safely, due to issues such as sidewalks being broken or cracked. In order to make the physical environment safe and appealing for children to walk and bike, we led the Ruby Drive students on a walkability audit to identify barriers to walking and biking to and from school.  The students were equipped with cameras, notepads, pencils, and rulers to capture the issues they encountered when walking and biking to and from school.  With our help, students then prioritized the issues and put together a report.  The report, along with an invitation to hear the students present their findings, was sent to the City of Placentia Traffic Engineering and Code Enforcement, City Hall, Placentia Police Department, and the school board.  
Shortly after completing the walkability audit, the students held their presentation at the school and advocated for changes to be made. Notably, one change to the fixed environment was announced by Mark Miller, City of Placentia Traffic Engineer, at the students’ presentation.  A new traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Ruby Drive and Placentia Avenue, the site of the previous accident and an intersection that currently has only one crosswalk with 4 lanes to cross and a 40 mile per hour speed limit.  The new signal will make it safer for the many students who cross the street at this location. Addressing the numerous barriers to safe, active mobility is the first step to promoting the multiple health benefits of walking and bicycling. In addition to structural changes, the students are receiving pedestrian safety lessons from Placentia Police Department as well as nutrition education from the Orange County Department of Education. This obesity prevention and safety effort is a collaboration that stands to impact not only Ruby Drive Elementary, but also the surrounding community. 

Page Last Updated: October 30, 2023