This week, CPS students took part in International Walk or Bike to School Day – an event to promote safe and accessible streets, healthy living and environmental awareness.
Organized by the Partnership for a Walkable America, the original event was called Walk Our Children to School Day, and was designed to galvanize support for walkable communities. Now in its 16th year, International Walk to School Day has become a global event, with thousands of students from more than 40 countries participating each year.
“Being able to walk is one of the perks of attending a neighborhood school,” said Adam Parrott-Sheffer, principal of Peterson Elementary. “It gives kids the chance to travel together, talk, laugh and make friends on their way to and from school.”
Located in North Park, Peterson has participated in Walk to School Day for more than five years. Nearly 600 students, as well as several staff members, walked to and/or from school on October 9, with many of the children accompanied by their parents.
“It’s a good opportunity for the parents as well,” said Principal Parrott-Sheffer. “They get to see and talk to each other, and thanks to the generosity of Starbucks, many of them were able to get their morning coffee on the way to school.”
Students who did the walk received free bananas courtesy of Aramark – part of Peterson’s overall effort to combine healthy eating with physical activity. Walk to School Day also aligns with the school’s focus on green living and active transportation, both of which are important issues for this environmentally-conscious community.
“We have a green roof, an onsite garden, composting in the cafeteria and a successful recycling program,” said Principal Parrott-Sheffer. “So walking to school is just one more green initiative we can add to our list.”
Last week’s Walk to School Day event kicked off Peterson’s “Walking Wednesdays” program, which is designed to get students walking to school at least one day a week throughout the year.
“We want this to be an ongoing commitment, so we do what we can to keep it fun,” said Principal Parrott-Sheffer. “We help the students track their progress, and have celebrations for the classes who are doing the best.”
The success of International Walk to School Day, along with a growing interest by students in bicycling to school, recently sparked the idea for a similar event focused on biking. The first National Bike to School Day was held in May of 2012 and is often celebrated by schools in both spring and fall. CPS’s Canty Elementary hosted their Bike to School Day event on October 11 and was pleased to report that nearly half the student body participated. Several staff members, including the principal, biked to school as well. Bikes were parked on school grounds by grade level, and parent volunteers watched over them until they could be picked up by students at the end of the day.
Be it walking or biking, both programs welcome and encourage active transportation to and from school, and both have led to many long-term fitness programs and policy changes throughout the country. These include the enforcement of laws against unsafe driving behavior and the creation of safe sidewalks and pathways for students who walk or bike to school.