It's Walk to School Day

When I was in kindergarten and first grade, my family lived in Iowa City, Iowa, just a few blocks from my elementary school. I walked there with my next door neighbor and best friend Aaron, who was my same age. I remember a bully picking on me once or twice, but otherwise, I recall it being a safe and uneventful journey.

When my family and I moved to Kentucky and then to California, my schools were miles away, so I took the school bus in Kentucky and the city bus in California. I joined the majority of students across the country who commute to school by vehicle.

The percentage of students walking to school has been declining for decades. The National Household Travel Survey found that in 1969, around 41% of students aged 5 to 14 years old commuted to school through active travel, either walking and/or biking. In 2009, they found that this was down to 13%. Even when students live within one mile of school, as I did in Iowa City, only 35% of kids walk, compared with 86% in 1969.

With the rise in concerns about childhood obesity and the environmental impact of so many vehicles on the road – also topics of concern to the students with whom we work - in recent years, there have been several new initiatives and organizations working to increase the number of students walking/bicycling to school.

One initiative is International Walk to School Day, which began in 1997 as a one-time event, but has continued every year since then. This year, it is being commemorated on October 8 and thousands of schools in every state, DC, and Puerto Rico plan to participate. So far, there are 19 schools in DC registered to take part.

Another initiative is the fun “walking school bus.” A recent Washington Post article explains what this means:

“It’s like a carpool, except we walk,” says 10-year-old CJ Stanton, who “rides” with Nic and Lizey. “There are different little stops, and the group just keeps getting bigger and bigger with more and more kids the closer we get to school.”

“There’s nothing about walk pool that’s not good,” says Lizey Leibovich’s mom, Meri Kolbrener, who started the “bus” that travels 1.3 miles each morning from Woodley Park to the Adams campus of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School. The “bus” runs every day unless it’s colder than 25 degrees outside or it’s pouring rain.”

The National Center for Safe Routes to School, launched in 2006, provides a guide for creating a walking school bus. They also provide technical support and resources to states and communities that want help.

Another organization working on this issue is the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, which launched in 2005 and brings together the school system, the transportation engineers, the planners, the public health folks, and the community advocates in various cities so that together they can make it easier for students and others to commute by foot.

If you care about this issue, explore these organizations and consider taking action, starting by participating in International Walk to School Day!

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