When we were little, we’d listen to our parents and grandparents share how they “walked five miles to school in the snow and pouring rain." Today, our kids are shocked when they hear we walked three blocks to school every morning.
Whether school is too far from home in our ever-expanding suburbs, their parents are afraid of them heading to school on their own or, let’s face it, they just don’t want to, kids these days rarely walk or bike to school. However, 10 to 20 minutes of exercise twice a day can have a significant effect on a child’s well-being. According to the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research , middle-school girls can get an additional 13.7 minutes of exercise a day simply by walking to school.
For the past five years, Trailnet has worked with 23 schools providing technical assistance, bike safety classes and walking school bus programs – and it has encouraged students to strap on their sneakers for a walk to school.
“Many schools are very interested in the program because they face increasing transportation costs which could be reduced if more children walk,” explained Cindy Mense, director of community services of Trailnet, via e-mail. “Also, some schools deal with traffic congestion in the mornings and high obesity rates, and SRTS can reduce congestion and increase physical activity.”
Protecting our kids
Safety is of the utmost importance to Trailnet’s staff. Because the NCCOR says 40 percent of American children don’t walk or bike to school because their parents think traffic is too dangerous, Trailnet works closely with schools to develop an STRS plan unique to their needs and locations. The organization investigates routes, conducts mapping sessions and addresses safety concerns to eliminate the barriers hindering a safe walk to school.
Jenny Viviano, Trailnet’s event and marketing manager, explained through e-mail: “For example, at one school, the traffic pattern for the drop-off area was congested and dangerous, so Trailnet brought in an engineer to consult and help implement a revised traffic pattern around the school.”
One important piece of the program is the walking school bus, in which an organized group of children walk to school with an adult at a pre-designated departure time along routes selected by school administrators, parents and school resource officers. Since police in the communities are aware of these routes, there are “more eyes on the street,” reducing threats to a child’s safety.
Said Mense, “Getting organized to walk to school is important because children leave at different times. An organized departure and preferred routes help improve safety and fun! Kids have time to be silly and social before school starts. They arrive energized and ready to learn.”
Parents and schools who wish to learn more about STRS can visit Trailnet’s website or contact the organization at 314-436-1324. And be sure to keep your eyes open for International Walk to School Day this October. Trailnet will be hosting days throughout the month to accommodate different school schedules and to give kids a chance at something we used to take for granted – experiencing the great outdoors before hitting the books indoors.
By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting
Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL
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