If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember walking or biking to school every day. As recently as 1969, more than half of all U.S. students walked or biked to get to school each morning. Now that percentage is less than 15 percent, and in some areas of the country it is against local laws or school district policies (students have to take the bus or be driven to school by their parents).
That’s why today, Wednesday, Oct. 6, is so important. Today is International Walk (or Bike) to School Day, and schools all over Alaska, the United States and in the rest of the world are promoting students walking or biking to school.
Local schools will hold a variety of promotions, including walking school buses (where students walk to school together with parents as a group), bike trains and the like. In addition to presentations on biking and walking safety, schools will distribute reflectives and other safety equipment. They also might offer door prizes to students who walk or bike to school, or there might be a special breakfast or lunch. Parents can get involved by participating in walkability studies around their local schools to see what barriers and safety issues need to be addressed to get more students walking or biking.
Why is it so important to get kids walking and biking to school again? For one, there has been a sharp rise in childhood obesity and that has resulted in more cases of Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) appearing in teenagers and even young children. Besides helping improve our children’s health, getting them walking and biking helps them reconnect to our communities and the land. There also is improved air quality, since fewer students rely on the bus or cars to get to school, and routes to school tend to be safer when more students walk or bike to school. One of the biggest issues is changing the culture to promote walking and biking to school, and according to this article in Grist, that starts with the parents.
The International Walk (or Bike) To School Day site for the U.S. lists schools in Anchorage, Wasilla, Cordova, Seward and Tok as places in Alaska with events scheduled today, and there are many more events that aren’t posted on the site. Some events are tied in with education projects, such as one as Anchorage’s Kasuun Elementary School called “Exercise your right to read,” where students are trying to walk/bike 26 miles over a period of time and read 26 minutes a day. There also is a statewide School Health and Wellness Institute meeting in Anchorage today, and many of the state’s injury prevention and health promotion workers at the event will go to Scenic Park Elementary School to assist with its program today.
Since today is International Walk (or Bike) to School Day, people may wonder if it’s too late to stage an event. In many communities, they are making this a year-long event and not linking it to just one day. The CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program has the Kids Walk To School campaign, which includes many of the concepts of International Walk (or Bike) to School Day.
The Safe Routes To School program, which has statewide and national initiatives, promotes International Walk (or Bike) to School Day in Alaska, and it also promotes community design to make walking and biking a year-long event. The program offers tools for parents who want to make their children’s routes to school safer, and it also offers grants to help them promote safe walking and biking to school.
Another good resource is the Safe Kids USA program’s “Safe Kids Walk This Way” initiative, which focuses on injury prevention. The WalkScore.com site is a good resource for checking out the walkability of your neighborhood.