Windsor Middle Schoolers Are Mapping Out Safer Local Roads
A seventh-grade classroom at the Windsor School is working with the Norwich Police Department on a data-mapping project that could lead to fewer drivers breaking speed laws—and might even save lives.
It begins with specialized mapping software, called ArcGIS, that a Windsor social studies teacher, Keighan Eaker, happens to be trained to use as an educational tool. Back in 2014, as part of an Obama Administration initiative, the software’s maker, Esri, donated free accounts to K-12 schools across the country, calling it a “billion-dollar gift to education.”
Or as one Windsor student describes ArcGIS: “It’s like Google Maps on steroids.”
Mrs. Eaker points to the mapped coordinate of a traffic stop in Norwich.
When Windsor gained access to ArcGIS in 2015, Eaker wasted no time putting it to use, demonstrating a variety of valuable insights to be drawn from crossing geographic data with map visualizations.
“Students have created maps that tell the stories of book characters, the progression of Civil War battles, key locations of the Civil Rights movement, and the development of the Pittsburgh steel industry,” says Eaker.
For the 2017-18 school year, Eaker decided to go real-time with the data-mapping, partnering with the Windsor Police Department to map police calls. “The kids generated multiple layers of map data, identified patterns of public behavior and ‘hot spot’ locations of police activity, and presented their information to the department.”
Mrs. Eaker and Sgt. Frank have collaborated for three years on police data mapping.
Sergeant Jen Frank of the Norwich Police Department, formerly a Windsor police officer, has collaborated with the students since the start.
With last year’s map project, Sgt. Frank claims the students had a direct impact on policing in Windsor. “Their work modified our police program,” she says. “One of the big components was showing us when we had the biggest volume of calls, and where, allowing us to adjust hours that officers were on and off schedule.”
Adds Frank, “These students are providing us with real, actionable intelligence to make our community safer.”
And for their contribution to the community, last year Windsor Police honored Eaker and her students the department’s annual Good Samaritan Award—adding to a slew of other academic and athletic achievements that Windsor School students have garnered recently.
Sgt. Frank joined the Norwich Police Department in early 2018, but kept ties with Windsor’s kids and their mapping skills.
Eaker’s current crop of seventh graders are using ArcGIS to track locations of Norwich traffic signs and traffic stops, and they hope to offer suggestions for additional signage placement around town to reduce speeding incidents and increase pedestrian safety.
They get a visit every couple weeks from Sgt. Frank, which is a chance to ask her questions about some of their findings and share patterns they’re seeing in the data. And Frank knows from past years that the further the students dig into it, the more engaged they become. “It’s amazing to see how some students truly seem to shine in this work,” she says.
Says one student, “It’s cool that we can have this impact on another community and an issue they’re having.”
And the value of their services is not lost on another student. “We’re doing a job that people actually get paid a lot of money to do,” he says, “but we’re doing it for free. And we’re 12.”
There will be some reward for their traffic-stop mapping. Frank has invited the class to present their findings to the Norwich selectboard, the town’s road agents, and to the Vermont Police Academy sometime next spring.
But, working in teams to create the most accurate map for the Town of Norwich, the group that does it the fastest wins the ultimate prize:
Ice cream with Sgt. Frank.
This article and "The Lowdown" are a production of Story Kitchen Creative.