The County of Santa Barbara wants to build a lighted pathway on property owned by the Santa Barbara Unified School District since students cross it for El Camino Elementary and San Marcos High schools.
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting that the county will apply for funding under the Safe Routes to School grant program to improve the property, which is undeveloped open space located along San Simeon Drive and San Marcos Road in the Eastern Goleta Valley.
The walkway isn’t just an issue for children and parents; neighbors and law enforcement officials have complained about transients living on the property. Wolf said a lighted, more populated walkway would help the Sheriff’s Department, too.
Chris Sneddon, deputy director of transportation for the county, said the project is estimated to cost $300,000, including design, environmental review and construction. The county is applying for the grant through the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.
Board members expressed concerns but gave the OK for the county to move forward with the proposal.
The district would be on the hook if the project went over-budget, board member Monique Limon noted, but Wolf said the county would reject bids that were more than the grant amount.
The Santa Barbara district would also be responsible for the pathway’s maintenance costs, though Superintendent Dave Cash is talking to the Goleta Union School District about sharing some of those costs, he said.
“My concern is about economics; we don’t have gardeners to take care of our own school sites,” board member Ed Heron said.
Cash said the pathway shouldn’t impact the district’s ability to develop the property in the future.
The district also discussed its pilot summer swimming program at Tuesday’s meeting.
With its community partners, the district wants to expand its Third Grade Swim Program to more schools after the success this summer with McKinley Elementary School students.
Thirty-seven students were given free swim lessons at UCSB’s Recreation Center Aquatics Complex this summer through the program, which is a partnership between UCSB’s Early Academic Outreach Program, Associated Students Community Affairs Board, the UCSB Optimist Club and the South Coast Community Aquatics Center.
Funding comes from the community partners and donations, and the school district provides transportation to and from the lessons.
The students had a great time — evidenced by the many thank-you letters written to teachers — and parents said they were grateful their children knew how to swim, since they would otherwise never get that opportunity, McKinley teacher Ashley Lemp said, adding that many families go to the beach but don’t let their children go into the water for fear they could drown.
“I can’t explain how excited they were when they heard they were going to get a brand-new suit and goggles,” said Dos Pueblos High School swim coach Kevin Kuga, who supervised the lessons this summer. “In the beginning, several students didn’t even want to put their faces in the water, and by the end, they were swimming full laps.”
Of the 37 students, 20 were able to swim 25 yards unassisted by the end of eight lessons, according to Kuga.
“They were able to achieve a goal that they never initially thought they could,” he said.
There was a similar program for Goleta Union students for three years, and after this year’s pilot for SBUSD, the partners hope to expand to at least two more schools for next year. A more specific plan will be formed later in the year, said Emilio Handall, assistant superintendent of elementary education and former McKinley principal.
Students learned to swim, tread water and float on their backs, in addition to lessons about water safety, health and wellness.
Britt Ortiz, with UCSB’s Early Academic Outreach Program, said he wants to expand to two more Santa Barbara elementary schools for next summer and incorporate more of the university setting with a campus tour and speakers.
Santa Barbara High School was apparently the first to give class credit for swimming 100 years ago — according to a news clipping he found — and it would be incredible for the district to become the first now to have free swim lessons for all third-graders, he said.
“Nothing can beat the happiness of a child learning how to swim in a pool,” Ortiz said.
The safety aspect is an important one, too, said Peter Neushul of the South Coast Community Aquatics Center. Drowning is one of the top causes of death for children younger than age 15, and lower-income children are even more at risk, he said.
“This program will save lives, period,” Cash said. “It’s something we need to do.”