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Safe Routes School Honors North Adams Coordinator, 2 Schools
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
01:13AM / Wednesday, June 10, 2020
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Emily Schiavoni is this year's recipient of the Nikki Tishler Memorial Award for the work she's done in North Adams to promote safe walking and biking. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Berkshire County was well represented at the state's Safe Routes to School award program on Monday, including the presentation of the Nikki Tishler Memorial Award to North Adams Public Schools' Emily Schiavoni.
Lee Elementary won the Exemplary Program Award for the Western District and Clarksburg School received an honorable mention. Additionally, both schools along with Brayton, Greylock and Colegrove Park in North Adams were named Gold Level winners and Williamstown Elementary a Bronze Level winner. 
The state Department of Transportation program has partnered with more than 900 schools in 237 communities during its 15 years. It offers training, signage, information, and infrastructure grants to encourage walking and biking safely to school. 
"Each year it's our goal to make our partner sustainable partners, meaning that we give them the tools to run a secrets program on their own," said MassDOT Project Manager Cassandra Gascon Bligh during the virtual ceremony. "In order for us to keep partnering with new schools, it's really critical that the school district and the community realized the importance of see fruits and making a regular part of their call season sustain the program year over year."
The Tishler Award, previously the Super Hero Award, was renamed for the late transportation planner and Safe Routes to School coordinator last year and was presented by her father, Gary Tishler. 
"Nikki was one of mascots fiercest advocates for social justice, and when I thought about her this morning I could only imagine what she would be up to right now in the current social justice environment, and she'd be fierce inside the organization and outside on the streets," said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. "As Nicky would remind us if she were here, the work we do in the Safe Routes to School program is even more important, because of the pandemic but it's also even more important, because of the reminders that we have all been given sadly in these last couple weeks about the importance of being intentional about social equity, and about making sure that the things that we do benefit everyone and every community."
The award is given to the individual who has shown commitment and extra effort in making SRTS successful within their community. 
Schiavoni is community outreach coordinator for the North Adams Public Schools. Her efforts include working on pedestrian projects, such as creating small parklets ariound the city, and leading a team that includes Amanda Chilson of Mass in Motion and Patrick Higgins, SRTS Western region coordinator. 
The team has mapped out all the city's streets for bikeability, hosted trainings for teachers on bike and pedestrian safety that they could transmit to their students, won an SRTS infrastructure grant from Brayton Elementary, and integrated the program's Appalachian Trail lesson into some classes. She also did an analysis of how weather affected walkability.
"Emily is constantly finding new ways to improve the North Adams community," said Higgins. "When she is not improving student help with safe routes, you can catch her serving the community through contributing to the revitalization of North Adams downtown business district. ...
"Her colleagues and friends would describe her as someone committed to finding meaningful ways to improve students lives. Nikki Tishler shared this commitment, which is why MassDOT selected her as the winner for this year's award."
Higgins also announced the awards for Lee and Clarksburg. Lee Elementary is located far back from the road on a a hill with one road as access that creates logistical issues for biking and walking.
"Inspired by some award winners last year, the school created a monthly walk to school day," he said. "The community involvement component is particularly noteworthy as each month, the walk is sponsored or hosted with a different community organization."
Lee has partnered with organizations such as the Police Department and Lions Club. It also conducted an analysis to see how arrivals and dismissals could be improved. The result was the idea for a "park and walk" that was supposed to be piloted in June. Instead, it created a walk-to-school video with students and community members sending videos and pictures of themselves walking. 
Clarksburg got an honorable mention for planning a regular bike-to-school event. The school is also on a hill and had to address traffic concerns for arrival and departure that also takes into account traffic to the connected town library. 
"In addition to participating in safe routes flagship events, Clarksburg focused its 2019-2020 efforts on reducing the number of cars traveling to and from school, he said. "It planned on launching a regular bike-to-school event, and also began exploring a safe trails to school idea for those living near a trail that serves the school. This is particularly noteworthy as outdoor recreation is popular amongst the Berkshire community."
Clarksburg also had been exploring the idea of a "park and walk" that would encourage students by rewarding the more mature with independence. 
The awards program had to be held remotely because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which had also forced school closures and prevent some of the plans from reaching fruition this spring.
"It was an easy decision for us to keep this event scheduled because we knew it was important to celebrate now and honor the schools and community stakeholders that have changed everything about what they do, our educators are reinventing the way they teach communicate and interact with their students," said Program Coordinator Diane Hanson. "We also know that with more kids at home during the day, they're getting outside to walk and bike, more than ever, our goal is Safe Routes to School remains the same, to promote safe and active student transportation, wherever school may be."
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