WINTHROP — Motorists throughout Winthrop will begin seeing roadside signs urging them to slow down because people are playing outside as part of the town’s latest efforts to promote outdoor recreation and wellness. The signs are part of ongoing efforts through the school district’s service learning program to engage students of all ages in the town’s “We Play Outside” initiatives, according to a news release.

The green and white yard signs were designed by the fifth-grade classes with guidance from Service Learning coordinator Margy Knight and Town Councilor Sarah Fuller. They were distributed to students and their families to place in their yards following the end-of-year reception on June 12.

In a recent community survey, traffic speed was one of the top reasons cited by residents that made them reluctant to walk, ride bicycles or do other activities throughout the town.

“These signs are a friendly reminder to drive responsibly and be mindful of people and pets who may be walking, jogging, skateboarding, cycling and recreating along our roadways and in our yards and playfields,” said Patrice Putman, chairwoman of Winthrop’s Recreation Committee.

Another project, the brainstorm of a seventh grader, involved the entire middle school planking, (lying down to spell words). The seventh-graders practiced, and then taught the sixth- and eighth-graders to join them and spell out “Winthrop Plays Outside.” Central Maine Power Co. sent a photographer to capture the event and the image will be used to promote the town and its recreational programs, according to the release.

“We’ve been engaging the students in promoting “We Play Outside” for several reasons,” said Burns Knight. “It teaches them about the importance of being active for their own health and that of their families. It is a vehicle that teaches them about being involved in the community, engages every student in creative problem solving and gives them a hands-on project that they have ownership of and can see the results of outside the classroom.”

Students will continue work on their projects; middle school classes will develop new ways of using planking either live or via photos and the fifth graders, now moving to the middle school will convene next year to evaluate the “Winthrop Playing Outside, Slow Down,” signs’ effectiveness.

Following the completion of Winthrop’s Comprehensive Plan in 2010, the town adopted the slogan “We Play Outside” to promote the recreational economy and well-being for its residents and visitors. During the 2011-2012 school year, students from each of the schools have been involved via service learning projects in developing ways to promote the slogan and encourage people to play outside, no matter their age or ability. Additional service learning and Play Outside programs are being developed.

“I think we might be the only town that has adopted this as our official slogan, but there is a rising awareness nationwide about the need to get people more active,” noted Fuller, “We’re just getting started with our promotion of “We Play Outside,” but if we can promote something that improves people’s health and capitalizes on our outdoor recreational assets for economic development, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Individuals and organizations that would like to become involved with these initiatives are encouraged to contact one or more of the following: Patrice Putman, chairwoman, Winthrop Recreation Committee, 377-2324; Sarah Fuller, Town Council, 446-6362; or Margy Burns Knight, Service Learning coordinator, 377-2031.

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