Guest Opinion by Lori Otter
For children, walking or riding a bike, skateboard or scooter is an adventure. For parents and teachers, it can help them encourage a child’s creativity, health and overall happiness. As an educator, I have observed that children who walk to school come better prepared to learn and have fewer behavioral problems. Safely walking to and from school can be a fun, social experience for children. It is a chance for them to spend time with their families, neighbors and peers while learning about their community.
As the State of Idaho’s spokesperson for the newly launched Safe Routes to School Program, I want to encourage community leaders in education, government, law enforcement and public and private sector organizations to implement a program in their communities.
I recognize that juggling work, health and family sometimes forces parents to choose the fastest and most convenient way to get things done, so driving children to school has become a necessity for many families. Parents concerned for children’s safety are driving them to school even if it is just a short distance. Communities in Idaho, however, now have a way to create an alternative that can reverse the lifestyle choices that are hurting children’s overall health.
Implementing a Safe Routes to School program, which may reduce the number of motor vehicles on the roads and encourage physical activity, may stem the tide of asthma and diabetes. Both of these diseases have a higher incidence among today’s children than any generation in our history.
Thirty years ago 90 percent of children who lived within one mile of school walked or biked. Today less than 15 percent of children walk to school. The Safe Routes to School program is an attempt to reverse that trend. The program brings together experts in the fields of engineering, education, health care and law enforcement with parents in each community who wish to improve routes to school. This is not an easy task, and there is minimal funding available to Idaho for infrastructure improvements such as crosswalks and sidewalks. However, many innovative things can be done at very little cost through education and encouragement programs that promote physical activity and safety. Together we can get children off their seats and onto their own two feet.
On June 1, we announced the recipients of the 2007 Safe Routes to School funding awards. The awards totaled $1.5 million to improve infrastructure and provide educational programs at 36 schools around Idaho. The awardees will attend training on June 27 to assist them with implementing their projects.
I know firsthand how important it is to teach children safety awareness. It is one of the most important skills we can teach them. The Idaho Safe Routes to School program started out at about the same time as the kindergarten class of 2007; we hope that by 2017, when this class graduates, every community in Idaho will have a program.
For more information about the Idaho Safe Routes to School program email Jo.O'Connor@itd.idaho.gov or call 208-334-4475..