Students walk to school to promote fitness, nature

Thursday, May 1, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ aeisenhauer@semissourian.com Students, parents and teachers made their way down Randol Avenue on Wednesday as they walked from Dennis Scivally Park to Alma Schrader Elementary School during Walk to School Day, an obesity awareness event.

Grasping lunch boxes and holding hands, about 100 students took to the sidewalk along Masters Drive on a trek to school Wednesday. The hike was part of Walk to School Day, designed to encourage environmentalism and fend off rising obesity among children.

Led by parents, teachers and PTA members, the students marched from Dennis Scivally Park to Alma Schrader Elementary, about four-tenths of a mile.

"Any time you can get kids outside and moving is what you want as a parent," said Carmen Shadron, who joined in the expedition.

International Walk to School Day is typically held in the fall. Alma Schrader began participating in 2005, deciding this year to offer the event in the spring as well. While organizers admit the event is more symbolic than anything, they hope it sends a message to children that exercise should be a part of their daily life.

In that vein, Dr. Mark Langenfeld, a professor in the department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation at Southeast Missouri State University, has helped the school apply for a grant that would allow students to walk to school, supervised, on a routine basis. He announced the idea of a "Walking School Bus" before parents Wednesday.

Supported through the program Safe Routes to School and funded by the state highway transportation department, the program would allow parents or community volunteers to follow a walking route to school, stopping to pick children up along the way.

Langenfeld said he expects the school to know by the end of May whether it was awarded the grant.

Money would mainly go toward running background checks on volunteers. Langenfeld said safety is often a reason cited by parents for not allowing their children to walk to school. He also listed traffic, more working families and a lack of infrastructure or sidewalks as barriers.

According to research from the University of Michigan, more than 50 percent of children walked or biked to school in 1969. In 2004, less than 13 percent of U.S. children did.

"There is a perception that it might not be safe for children to walk nowadays. But that can have a reverse effect; as more people drive to school, the more traffic there is," Langenfeld said.

During the first Walk to School Day, organizers highlighted the need for more sidewalks, which were built the following year. Langenfeld said he selected Alma Schrader for the program because his three daughters attended the school. He would eventually like to expand the idea to the four other elementary schools if there is an interest.

If the Walking School Bus grant is approved, it would most likely start by running one day a week. Langenfeld said the program could continue during the winter, but temperature guidelines would have to be set.

Walking bus programs already exist in Columbia, Mo., and Kansas City, Mo., but Langenfeld said he is unaware of any in Southeast Missouri.

Parents were receptive to the idea. "We usually drop our daughter off, but we live close enough that we could walk to school. If we leave a few minutes earlier we could probably just walk," parent Joe Davis said.

"It's definitely something I'd be interested in," parent Melissa Kidd said.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

Were you there?

Have a comment?

Log on to semissourian.com/today

Comments
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: