Brandon Daley: Walking ‘in their shoes’ from Woodlawn to Liberty Memorial Central (Column)

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Note: Brandon Daley is a fifth grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary School. He invited the school board and district leaders to join him at 7 a.m. Wednesday on a walk from Liberty Memorial Central Middle School to Woodlawn to understand what travel concerns students could face if those who currently attend Woodlawn, the only Lawrence elementary school north of the Kansas River, would have to walk to LMCMS if district leaders move forward with school closures that have been discussed recently. 

Daley is planning the same walk on Thursday and Friday mornings this week. This piece was adapted from Daley’s email to district leaders following Wednesday’s walk. 

On Wednesday, a group of Woodlawn teachers, staff, and Lawrence community members walked from Liberty Memorial Central Middle School to Woodlawn Elementary School. 

We did this to better understand and empathize with our students and families about possible implications of proposed scenarios mentioned in regards to the budget conversations we are having in Lawrence.

Our walk was 1.76 miles with a temperature below 10 degrees. It took our group about 43 minutes to arrive at Woodlawn.

Biggest takeaways:

Brandon Daley/Contributed Photo
  • Walking in a group made it fun and a community feel. This cannot be guaranteed for all students on their walks.
  • We are expecting kids to follow all street traffic signals and for all drivers to pay attention to crosswalks and not their smartphones. Again, this cannot be guaranteed and increases a risk we don’t need.
  • The crosswalk at Sixth and Massachusetts streets is extremely short to get across. It’s then a 2-minute cycle before walking is available again.
  • The bridge was as risky as you would assume: increased winds from lack of buildings to block; understandably snow-packed sidewalks; a narrow path. Unsupervised children crossing over this bridge would be asking for concerns.
  • We all were bundled up with layers. I know from experience that kids do not plan ahead for weather. Kids will be unprotected from harsh winter weather on such a walk.
  • We celebrated the trek with donuts, coffee and conversations. We are asking our kids to immediately jump into phonics, PE, long division, etc. If they are dressed in layers, do they get to peel layers off or stay bundled up all day?
  • A 2-plus-mile walk throughout most of Lawrence is a tough trek for a student under 13. There are lots of streets to cross. 
  • This walk was school to school. Students may live farther north/west/east than Woodlawn and would need to increase the commute time. Additionally, asking a student under 12 to be focused on their walk, know the path, and adhere to all traffic laws along the way may be shortsighted.

I understand the opportunities at savings to balance the budget will be hindered by an increased need of busing. I also understand that Wednesday, due to school closure, students would not have been asked to traverse the elements en route to school. With that being said, if we are to have school on Thursday and Friday, we would like to see school board members and district leadership join us on this walk. Not many daily calendars are busy with meetings at 7 a.m. As a soccer coach and a teacher, I often tell my students and athletes that I would never ask something of them that I could not do or adhere to myself. 

An inability to attend a walk this week may speak to the privilege we live with in comparison to our students and families in the city. As I mentioned above, I was warm and bundled up for this walk. I see each day at recess students who come to school without the proper outerwear to protect them against freezing cold weather.

In a conversation that has been dominated by quantitative data and remarks of “acting according to data and not emotions,” I wanted to present to you this qualitative data. It would be thorough work on everyone’s behalf to consider this essential data that will truly impact students.

Although no one simple answer exists, I felt this walk and information-gathering was necessary as I listened to the last Boundary Advisory Committee meeting and talks of “military miles.” Conversations of speculation of how long it would take kids felt like it lacked data, so I have provided this data to you now. We made this sacrifice and risk on a snow day because we felt it was important to our students, families, community, and for this big decision lying ahead of us.

Should we have school Thursday and/or Friday this week, many of the same members will be meeting at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School at 7 a.m. to walk to Woodlawn to arrive and begin teaching. I believe it is imperative and speaks volumes to the community that board members represent — in a very tense situation lately — to be present and to experience this walk.

I thank board members and district leadership for their time, their service to this community, and their consideration. 

Brandon Daley/Contributed Photo Lawrence community members met at 7 a.m. on snowy Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022 in front of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School to walk nearly 2 miles to Woodlawn Elementary School.
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