MANCHESTER - Instead of taking the bus or getting dropped off, Manchester Elementary Middle School students are encouraged to walk or ride their bike. School nurse Carol Baringer said she, the Bennington County Regional Commission and former planing director and zoning administrator Lee Krohn worked together to create a travel plan for the school.

"We received a grant, looking at making school street safer to walk on," she said.

An informal survey of families on the website found that most either take the school bus, around 30 percent or a family vehicle, about 67 percent, to school. However, Baringer said the majority of students live within one mile of the school building.

Working with local groups, as well a national Safe Routes to School, an organization that encourages safer ways for students to walk or ride to school, MEMS is trying just that.

On Friday, members of the Manchester and the Mountains bike Club and police officers led a bike safety workshop. Amy Verner, owner of Battenkill Sports, helped to organize the event.

"Yesterday, I did [bike safety for] kindergarten through fifth grade," she said. "We watched a film on helmets and learned the A-B-Cs of bikes, A is for air, B is for breaks, C is for crank and chain."

The seventh and eight grade worked on bike skills, based off the motorcycle safety course, set up by Officers Paul McGann and Abby Zimmer.

"This is a skills course...teaches avoidance, small, tight turns, cycling through an intersection," he said. "The kids love it, kids that didn't bring their bikes walked the course."

Along with the skills course, volunteers helped the students check out their bike to make sure it was mechanically sound, talked about what clothes to wear and fitted them for helmets. When they finished the safety course, groups of students led by an adult guide then rode a 25 minute mountain bike loop that Verner and her husband Robin built a few years ago.

Brian Jennings, a physical education teacher at MEMS, said the ultimate goal of this bike safety program is to cut down the number of kids riding the bus to school. Baringer and Jennings both spoke about Local Motion, a Burlington based company that brings trailers of bikes and teaches bike safety. This fall, MEMS will have a visit from the group and the whole school will have a chance to either learn how to ride, as well as go through a safety course.

Along with teaching students how to safely ride, MEMS has also taught pedestrian safety in gym class, Baringer said. As a part of Safe Routes to School and the travel plan designed in conjunction with the BCRC and the town, they want to create some safer crossings.

"[We want to put] a cross walked at School street to Bonnet Street," she said. "Memorial Avenue to Main Street, we're working on making it safer. When you cross the street there, because of the cars, you're taking your life in your own hands. We want to add a crosswalk with a button you push and a blinking light."

While changing crosswalks can be challenging, MEMS has found other ways to make walking to school safer in the interim. Starting last spring, once a week, a school official would meet children at three different locations to help them safely walk to school. Baringer said that they want to add a bike to school day as well.