As youngsters made their way on foot to Lincoln Elementary School Friday morning–decked out in their best Lebo and Steelers gear–they made a very special friend: Superintendent Melissa Friez.
Friez, who assumed her role at the district’s helm on July 1, is on a mission to walk with students to all seven elementary schools in the first three weeks of the 2023-24 school year.
“It was cool. She asked me how we walk to school and she asked us what we do at school,” said Joanna Milburn, 10, a fifth-grader at Lincoln. “I think she’s going to go to each lineup now to see how that goes.”
Friez came up with the idea to walk with students to their respective schools once she learned that Mt. Lebanon is a walking district.
“I’m learning a lot about the paths the students take, how sometimes people can drive in an inappropriate way, how amazing our crossing guards are and how much our kids love our crossing guards,” she said. “They know their names. They love them. They respect them. They care about them. They wanted me to meet them, which I loved.”
The school principals at each elementary school selected the students to walk with Friez.
Lincoln Principal Ron Kitsko selected a neighborhood where he knew a lot of students walk to school. He dropped Friez off on Morrison Drive and she walked with the students about a half a mile down Overlook to Beverly.
“I think it’s a really cool idea,” Kitsko said. “It sends a good, proactive message that says, ‘I’m new, but I want you to see me as somebody who is approachable and wants to connect with the community and set the right tone when starting a new tenure in a new school district.”
Lincoln PTA President Lorraine May and her children, Josh, 11, and Olivia, 8, walked with Friez to the school. May was impressed that her children already knew Friez, as she visited their school several times already this year.
Olivia, May said, is often shy. But she warmed up to Friez and chatted with her for most of the walk.
“We met a couple of crossing guards along the way,” May said. “By the end, we had 20-some kids walking with us. That’s just kind of what happens at Lincoln. Every street you pick up another kid.”
May was excited to see Friez walk to school with students. She’s also been impressed with how the new superintendent has interacted with parents and students in her first three months on the job.
“She is a light,” she said.
May said she’s heard from other PTA leaders who were also impressed with Friez’s initiative to walk with students to school.
Friez recently walked with students from the Bower Hill apartments to Hoover Elementary. Parents there were so excited that they emailed their PTA president to let her know how incredible this experience was for their kids.
“It was such a special, meaningful thing and the kids thought it was the coolest thing ever,” May said.
Friez has been asked to participate in the mobility portion of Mt. Lebanon’s comprehensive plan that is underway. She plans to use her experience walking to the schools, along with talking with students in upper grade levels, to bring ideas to the table.
“One thing that I’ve learned is how important it is to be safe while we’re driving, because our kids are everywhere and we want them to arrive to school and home safely,” Friez said. “Remind your neighbors how important it is to be aware of your surroundings and mind traffic rules to stay safe.”