I can remember my grandmother telling us how she used to walk several miles to school, and if she was lucky she got a ride in a horse and buggy. She was always healthy even in old age, when I knew her.
October is International Walk to School Month. Students in different countries, including the United States, will be walking to school this fall. The goal of International Walk to School Month is to promote bicycling and walking as viable transportation options to and from school. Why? According to a Talking Points bulletin from the National Center from Safe Routes to School:
- 1 out of 5 children are overweight. Walking or biking allows students time for physical activity of which they need at least 60 minutes per day. More active children are less prone to becoming overweight and developing chronic diseases earlier in life.
- Walking and biking to school gives children a sense of responsibility and independence. It also allows time to socialize with parents, friends and neighbors which enhances sense of community.
- Walking and biking reduces traffic congestion and thus improves air quality.
- Steady increases in gas prices and greater distances between school and home have strained school transportation budgets across the country. In 1980, the average cost of transporting a student was $466. After adjusting for inflation, the average cost per student in 2006 was $765! Walking and biking are low-cost alternatives.
Unfortunately, fewer children walk or bike to school than did so a generation ago. Today 16% of children walk to school today as compared to 42% in 1969. There are many reasons for this statistic including distance to schools, perceptions of crime, lack of sidewalks, school busing policies, traffic concerns and lack of motivation. Many students are not able to walk or bike even if they wanted to due to the distance between their schools and home. Schools are moving out to the edge of town where land is less expensive and more available. In 1969 about 45% of students lived less than a mile from school as compared to about 25% today. However, many students who live relatively close (<1 mile) chose not to walk due to one or more of the aforementioned barriers. Many of these barriers could be addressed during Walk to School events in October.
During the month, participating students could meet at designated locations and will walk with adult volunteers along designated safe routes to school. Students and volunteers could complete “walking audits” and identify barriers along the way (dilapidated sidewalks, barking dogs etc.) The audits could later be used to engage the community to address these barriers. After the walk, the school could offer a breakfast and celebration for participants and volunteers. Non-walking students might be able to participate in special walking activities during recess. To encourage walking throughout the rest of the year, students could be eligible for prizes if they walk or bike to school or if they participate in designated walking activities.
If you are interested in learning more about Walk to School you can visit the walk to school day website at http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/ready/about-the-events/walk-to-school-day. This website offers much of the information that your community would need to plan for a walk to school event.
Dan Remley, Field Specialist, Food, Nutrition and Wellness, OSU Extension
Reviewed by: Susan Zies, FCS Educator, OSU Extension Wood County
Source: National Center for Safe Routes to School. Why Walk or Bicycle to School? Talking Points accessed from http://www.walktoschool.org/downloads/WTS-talking-points-2009.pdf