Co-written by Community Partners’ School and Community Worksite Wellness Coordinator Kate Hannon.
There is no denying summer is over and school is underway. The school routine can be hard to get into, especially picking up and dropping off students. Allowing your students to walk and bike to school could be the answer. Nationally, the percentage of children walking or biking to school has dropped from approximately 50% in 1969 to 13% in 2009. But in Buffalo County 80% of youth living within a half mile of their school have asked to walk or ride their bikes. So why aren’t they walking? While there are barriers to the active commute, there are many possibilities to make walking and biking a routine.
Walking the route with the student and teaching the rules of the road is very beneficial. After a few times of guiding them and having your student show you what to do, you will create safe commuting habits. Along the way, there may be other families who are walking or who live in your neighborhood. Develop a walking group with them and pick up others who live on the route to school. Having strength in numbers increases safety and assurance your student will arrive at school safely. If the daily commute is lengthy, choosing an alternative drop-off or pick-up location at a nearby park, church, or friend’s house would be the perfect compromise.
Walking and biking to school increases children’s activity levels, develops a sense of independence and confidence, and builds physically active lifestyles. Around the school and community, active commuting decreases traffic congestion and builds safety among neighborhoods.
Buffalo County Community Partners has worked on a developing Safe Routes to School through a grant from the Nebraska Department of Roads. Over the past year, Kenwood, Northeast, Park, Windy Hills, Pleasanton and Ravenna have all worked at their own capacity to increase walking and biking to school. Every fall and spring there are national walk/bike to school days. This past spring, Windy Hills and Northeast elementary had 80% of their students walk or bike to school. Many elementary schools have 5th grade students serve as safety patrol which brings awareness around school zones before and after school. Many schools have implemented pedestrian crossing signs around their school to assist with traffic speeds. Creating sustainable walking and biking habits takes education, encouragement, and enforcement.