BY KATHY NORCROSS WATTS
Walking or biking to school benefits both students and the community, and Winston-Salem’s “Safe Routes to School” Program helps schools create opportunities for students to walk and bike to school safely. Now volunteers can help more students walk safely by walking a group of students to school.
Starting the day with exercise by walking or biking to school can help reduce child obesity, a growing problem nationwide. Also, when parents don’t drive their children to school, they reduce traffic congestion and air pollution—further goals of the Safe Routes to School Program.
For Judi Wallace, Coordinator of Winston-Salem’s Safe Routes to School program, enabling children to walk and bike safely to school is personal: she experienced first-hand the benefits of walking and biking to school. “When my daughter was ready for school, we were able to walk or bike the few blocks to the school every day,” Wallace said. “It was a wonderful way for us to have time together while also getting exercise. Safe Routes to School allows me to encourage others to enjoy this experience, too.”
Since 2008, Wallace has worked with local schools to develop SRTS programs, beginning with Kimberley Park Elementary. Sherwood Forest Elementary followed close behind. Both schools continue to have active and growing SRTS programs today.
Other schools have adapted the program to their specific resources, such as the availability of sidewalks and volunteers. For example, some schools without sidewalks have held “Walk At School” events, so that children can enjoy the benefits of walking before school. Another option is finding a safe remote drop-off location, like a nearby church that has a sidewalk connecting to school, and volunteers can lead groups of students to school.
Wallace is working with two elementary schools to start a “Walking School Bus” Program for this fall. A walking school bus means a trained adult volunteer walks with a group of students to school in the morning. The walk leader can pick students up along a designated route, or walk with them from a designated meeting place.
Walking school bus groups become a team and can choose a certain name or mascot, with approval from the principal. Other walking school bus programs around the country have helped reduce the number of tardies and absences at participating schools, reports Wallace.
While most focus has been on elementary schools, middle schools can also participate. Several Jefferson Middle School students enjoy walking to school. “I think that when I walk I’m getting a good morning workout, and I’m waking myself up because it’s so early in the morning,” said Grace Nemeth of Jefferson Middle School in November 2015. Ehime Abhulimen said it takes him only about five minutes to walk to Jefferson. “You’re more ready for academics,” he said in November 2015.
Studies show that he’s right: children who walk or bike to school can focus and learn better, due to the active start to their morning, Wallace said.
Wallace has developed a bike safety curriculum, “Bike Smarts,” that includes safety lessons—and bicycle practice—and has been used by more than 6,000 students in Forsyth County. “Regardless of their locations, all elementary schools can teach students safe walking and biking skills using the free “Let’s Go NC!” Curriculum,” Wallace said. “For the future, I would love to see more elementary and middle schools encouraging students to walk to and from school, if it’s safe to do so, or to have Walk At School programs for all students,” she said. “Some schools are even including staff members, to encourage a healthy school community.”
For more information, contact Judi Wallace, Safe Routes to School Coordinator, 336-768-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out www.cityofws.org/departments/transportation/pedestrians/about-safe-routes-to-school or www.facebook.com/pages/Winston-Salem-Safe-Routes-to-School/249437901793337.
Tips for Walking Safely to School
- Walk together and use a sidewalk if one is available.
- Wear bright or reflective clothing to be visible.
- Walk facing traffic if there is no sidewalk.
- Cross the street safely, looking in all directions for traffic.
- Obey traffic signs, signals and adult school-crossing guards.
Excerpted from www.saferoutesinfo.org/sites/default/files/tips_for_kids.pdf