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Teachers and staff at Lincoln Charter School aren't trudging through a tough financial time: They're dancing.

Last week, they voted to take a 50 percent pay cut to keep the school's doors open. The alternative was to furlough everyone except the primary staff, Anne Clark, director of community outreach, said Wednesday.

The school's financial difficulties, which are a result of a lack of funding because of the state budget impasse, didn't show at Lincoln's celebration of International Walk to School Day on Wednesday morning, when about 800 students, accompanied by parents, teachers and staff, walked in a long line around the block south of the school.

The walk was followed by speeches, a musical performance and dancing.

After exiting the school, the students paraded down the middle of West Street, then up West Princess, onto Cedar and back up West King. The city police watched over them, and neighbors stood on their stoops to watch and wave at the passing kids.

"Friends, please keep up! And don't run, that's not walking safely," kindergarten teacher Kim Wilhide said to her students, who were holding hands, walking in pairs. Wilhide said 16 students in her class of 23 regularly walk to school.

The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the need for children to have safe routes to school and safe walking practices as well as the importance of physical activity and the involvement of communities in schools.

Several community leaders, including members of the York City Council, Mayor Kim Bracey and state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, took part in the festivities before and after the walk.

Visibility: "I think (this event) is important because schools are invisible. ... It's important for us to get out from behind the walls," Guy Carter, a teacher's aide at Lincoln, said during the walk. Carter said he's concerned that people aren't fully aware of the effect policy decisions have on schools.

After the walk, Principal Leonard Hart led the students in school-spirit cheers, but his address began on a sober note. He brought up the fact that the school has been faced in the past few weeks with the threat of shutting down.

Because of the impasse, Lincoln has not received funding from school districts or the state since last May, Clark said after the festivities.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, attended the event and planned to meet afterward with school officials to understand the impasse's effect on the school.

For staff and teachers, accepting 50 percent pay was really the only option, Clark said. With tears in her eyes, she spoke of her despair at the thought of the kids showing up to school one day to find that she and other staff members weren't there.

She was touched by how supportive of Lincoln former teachers and other members of the community have been, donating basic supplies and food to the school.

Because Lincoln is one of only a few schools in the state to celebrate International Walk to School Day, the state's deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention, Dr. Loren Robinson, attended the event to commend the school's efforts. Addressing the students after the walk, she said, "Walking is good for our hearts, our bones and muscles ... also, it's good for our brains."

Health equity: "Some schools have no recess or physical activity at all," Robinson said after the event concluded with speeches, a musical performance and dancing, noting the pressure standardized testing puts on schools to give students more time in the classroom.

Clark said she is proud of the school's efforts to get students moving. Students have recess, assemblies always incorporate movement, and the school has implemented the Take Ten program, in which teachers can pause for 10 minutes at any point to lead students in educational movement-based activities, Clark said.

These efforts are part of the school's larger initiative to promote health equity, a concept that means everyone should have equal access to resources that allow them to stay healthy.

The Hope Street Garden and Learning Lab, on West Hope Avenue, is part of the push for health equity, Clark said. The idea for the garden arose from a realization that many children at Lincoln weren't getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables.

The garden has had an impact on academic performance: Clark said that since the learning lab got up and running, 100 percent of students who have used it have shown improvement in their science classes.

The school also has installed Safe Routes to School signs along a route that goes from the school to its outdoor learning lab.

She said about 70 percent of the school's nearly 800 students walk to school regularly.

Ka'gina Brown, 11, said she walks about four blocks to school.

"Sometimes, I like it," the fifth-grader said. "Sometimes people mess with me. They call me 'ball-head,'" she said, pointing to her small, high ponytail.

Eventually, Clark said, there will be stops along the safe route — homes or businesses — that are marked as safe places where students can go for help with bullying or other issues. She even talked about a "walking school bus," the idea that children can stop somewhere and be able to walk the rest of the way with adults or other children.

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.

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