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Safe Routes To School: The Walking School Bus

Do you remember a time when walking and bicycling to school was a part of everyday life? In 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, however, the story is very different. Fewer than 15 percent of all school trips are made by walking or bicycling, one-quarter are made on a school bus, and over half of all children arrive at school in private automobiles.

This decline in walking and bicycling has had an adverse effect on traffic congestion and air quality around schools, as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety. In addition, a growing body of evidence has shown that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a variety of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

A Danish study released late last year found that kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school. “As a third-grade pupil, if you exercise and bike to school, your ability to concentrate increases to the equivalent of someone half a year further in their studies,” said Niels Egelund, a co-author of the report.

Parents’ reasons for driving their children to school most often fall into two main categories: convenience and safety. One possible solution for both of these concerns is a walking school bus program. A walking school bus (WSB) is a group of children led to school by an adult. They can range from informal agreements between neighbors to a formal program sponsored by the school or other community group. Participating in a WSB assures parents that their child will arrive at school on time and be supervised by an adult for the entire trip. One local White Salmon neighborhood has already organized an informal WSB program that has been well attended and fun for students.

Do you live too far away from the school to walk or ride? Several districts have begun using remote drop-off locations. Parents can drive to a remote drop-off and walk or cycle to the school, or they can drop off their child at a specific time to participate in a WSB from that location. Because Whitson students are so enthusiastic about participating in the Walking and Wheeling to Whitson program, we are starting a pilot WSB program from a remote drop off location. Starting May 7 and continuing through May 31, you can drop your child off at the dirt lot north of Harvest Market (the corner of Tohomish and Wauna) at 7:40 a.m. any school day and he/she will walk to school with one or more adult volunteers. Stay tuned for news about a bike train happening from that same location once a week. Please come join us, and spread the word.

There are many more benefits of walking or biking to school. The daily walk to school offers children an opportunity to spend time in the natural environment. When appropriate and safe, walking or bicycling to school is an experience that can help them develop a sense of independence that is important for development. Children have time to bond with parents or other students while walking and talking. Plus, you don’t have to look for parking spots when you get to school.

Let the front office at Whitson know if your child needs a helmet for bikes, scooters, or skateboards. The school walk route published last week is the recommended route to follow. The weather is warm and the flowers are blooming, and I hope to see you out there!

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