Posts Tagged ‘International Walk (or Bike) to School Day’

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.


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Native Americans have the highest rates of pedestrian injury and death of any group in the United States. In fact, adult pedestrian death rates for Native Americans are almost 3.5 times that of the general population. For Native American children, the pedestrian death rate is almost four times that of the overall population of the United States.

Alaska has 229 federally recognized tribes, about 40 percent of the 562 nationwide, so there are a lot of tribal zones in the state. Because many of Alaska’s tribal zones are in rural areas, we don’t have some of the traffic problems as tribal zones in the Lower 48. The highest pedestrian annual death rates per 100,000 tribal citizens are in the Plains states, with 6.5 deaths per 100,000 compared to 1.4 nationally. Alaska has a death rate of 3.5 per 100,000, which is lower than the top rate but still more than twice the national average.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a video, “Tribal School Zone Safety,” designed to teach school kids how to safely walk to school. The DVD, which is free if you order it from the link, also includes a second video that teaches parents, school officials and tribal administrators how to make sure their children’s routes to school are safe for them to walk. The first video features students from several tribal schools around the country as they learn how to check traffic, how to wear reflectives and bright colors for visibility, and why they need to turn off their iPods and cell phones so they can hear what’s going on around them. There also is a tool kit for teachers who want to use the first video in their lesson plans. You can preview the videos and see the tool kit if you go to the link.

Since International Walk (or Bike) to School Day is this Wednesday, Oct. 7, the video is worth watching for both parents and educators. Click here to learn more about the Alaska Safe Routes To School program, and click here to go to the National Center for Safe Routes To School page.

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Many adults remember walking or riding their bikes to and from school. How many times do we remember Grandpa telling us about how hard his walk to school was back in the day (“I walked seven miles uphill in six feet of snow each way. You kids have it easy, I tell you.”)?

But over the last couple of decades, fewer kids have been able to walk or bike to school. Now they catch a school bus or are driven to class by their parents, even when they live less than a half-mile away from the school building.

In 1997, the Partnership for a Walkable America sponsored the first National Walk Our Children To School Day in Chicago, modeling it after a program in Great Britain. By 2002, all 50 states and more than 3 million students were participating in International Walk (or Bike) to School Day. This is an event that promotes safer and improved streets and sidewalks, healthy habits and clean air.

There still is time for schools in Alaska to organize their own International Walk (or Bike) to School Day Events. To get started, go to the State of Alaska’s Safe Routes To School site. There should be a list of events scheduled for Alaska schools (if your school isn’t listed, then create and event and register it). You also can go to the National Center for Safe Routes To School site for more information.

Many parents will organize walking school buses (where kids join a group of walkers as it passes their house, with several parents in the mix for safety). Local merchants can donate door prizes that are raffled off to kids who walk or bike to school (reflective arm/leg bands, bike lights, bike helmets, etc., are good prizes). It’s good to have parents involved, because they can note problems along the route, such as a blind corner with no sidewalk for walkers or a house with an aggressive dog. Also, don’t forget to reward safe practices, such as all cyclists should wear bike helmets (Sitka has a mandatory helmet ordinance for youth) and making sure jackets have reflectives so drivers can see the kids.


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