Today, students from all over the country will be celebrating International Walk to School Day. The holiday is meant to promote healthy lifestyles, by encouraging children to give up the bus, and instead turn to walking and biking, on their way to school.
Nowadays, according to the U.S. Department of Education, less than 15% of the all elementary and middle school pupils walk to school, whereas back in 1969 almost half of them had this habit.
Therefore, the campaign’s aim is to reinstate walking as a popular choice among kids so that they can reap the benefits of this healthy activity. Aside from its positive effects linked to physical fitness, walking has also been proven to boost academic performance among students, since exercise before classes improves concentration and memory.
Other than this undeniable impact on the young generation, the holiday also helps create closer bonds within the community, by bringing together kids, parents, teachers and local leaders. Moreover, by reducing traffic, and by promoting pollution-free means of transport, the event diminishes impact on the environment.
The tradition of observing this day started back in 1997, when The Partnership for a Walkable America declared the first National Walk Our Children to School Day in Chicago. Back then, the event’s main goal was to spread awareness regarding the importance of walkable communities.
Soon afterwards, the holiday grew in popularity, and in 2000 it became an international celebration, as the United Kingdom and Canada decided they would participate as well.
By the year 2002, approximately 3 million people were taking part in the festivity, by turning to walking instead of other means of transportation. Given this incredible engagement in the campaign, the month of October was actually declared Walk to School Month. In 2010, more than 3,500 events promoted this holiday throughout the United States, and by 2013 their number had surpassed 4,400.
In parallel, a modern Safe Routes to School program was also launched in Bronx, New York, back in 1997. Subsequently, in 2005, the Congress passed legislation to expand this project at a national level, in order to ensure greater safety for children who walk or take bike rides to school.
The campaign aims to encourage students to opt for these modes of transport when returning home or when going to their classes. In order to prepare them for these healthier commuting alternatives, the Safe Routes to School Program teaches them about pedestrian and bicycle safety, so that they can confidently ditch the bus.
Parents can also show support of these initiatives, by setting a positive example for their children. For instance, when possible, they could renounce driving, and turn to walking or biking instead. In addition, they could organize family walks or hikes, or they could participate in sports events such as marathons and other road races.
Another option would be to organize Walking School Buses, which are similar to carpooling, in that they involve a group of parents and children. This gathering of people walks to school together, while following a pre-established route. An alternative to this is the bicycle train, where pupils ride bikes instead.
All in all, however sedentary their lifestyle may be, families should keep in mind that this month is for walking, and change begins with one single step.
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