Idaho children, schools observe 'Walk to School' event
If more children were able to walk and bicycle to school, everyone's morning commute might get easier with 25 percent fewer motor vehicles on the road. That's how much additional traffic is attributed to parents driving children to school each day.
International Walk to School Day (IWSD) was observed around the world and in Idaho Wednesday. This year's global event highlighted a convergence of issues ranging from childhood obesity to environmental pollution and rising fuel prices that are pushing families to rethink how they travel, including daily trips to school.
International Walk to School Day began in the United Kingdom in 1994, and this year there are more schools participating across the U.S., including schools in Idaho, said Josephine O'Connor, Idaho Transportation Department Safe Routes to School coordinator.
Every day, rain or shine, students at Falls Valley Elementary School in Idaho Falls set off to school on foot. They are chaperoned by parents wearing bright yellow jackets that make them easy for kids to see as they make their way to school.
"We started the Yellow Jacket Walking School bus a couple of years ago," said Guy Bliesner, health and safety coordinator for the Bonneville Joint School District 93. "We now have similar programs at seven local area elementary schools."
"The principal and teachers couldn't be happier because the kids get to burn off some of their energy and arrive ready to learn, and parent involvement at the school has increased," Bliesner explained.
Bliesner credits the program's success to volunteer parents who don the yellow jackets every morning to walk with kids.
"Parents feel secure knowing their kids are being supervised, the walkers - both kids and parents - enjoy visiting with friends, and the community has fewer vehicles to contend with," he said. "It's a win-win for everyone."
A Safe Routes to School grant from ITD funds the program.
"We encourage all of our schools funded by Safe Routes to School to participate in this one-day event and to try to keep the momentum going by creating either Walking School Bus or Bike Train programs," O'Connor said.
The Safe Routes to School program offers the first 20 schools that register their events at www.walktoschool.org the chance to win a permanent display banner showing how to organize these types of programs and bicycle safety teaching kits.
To win, schools just need to send pictures of their IWSD events to Idaho Safe Routes Facebook page, O’Connor said.
In the U.S., Walk to School grows in numbers and relevance each year. In 2007, all 50 states held Walk to School events, encompassing an estimated 5,000 schools. Last year, events registered at www.walktoschool.org increased by 35 percent compared to 2006.
"Whatever the motivation, Walk to School boils down to families and community," O'Conner said.