Walk to School Day gets students hoofing

Officials tout health benefits, need for structured activity
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Students from Bonduel Elementary School walk along Mill Street near the First Street intersection Wednesday for the annual Walk to School Day. Most of the journey was on a sidewalk, but this segment of road has no sidewalks, so students walked in an area set apart by orange cones.

The fog was thick for Walk to School Day on Wednesday, but the rain stayed away just long enough for Bonduel Elementary School students to walk along Mill Street and get to classes on time.

An estimated 275 to 300 of the school’s 350 students participated in Walk to School Day, an annual fall event facilitated through local school districts and the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Brad Grayvold, Bonduel Elementary’s principal, stood at the intersection of First and Mill streets waiting for parents to walk by with their children and school buses to drop off students participating in the event. Tyler Debruin, a planner for ECWRPC’s Safe Routes to School program, stood at the crosswalk for the school with stickers to reward those who walked the entire route.

Elementary school staff members and student volunteers from Bonduel High School escorted groups of students along the route. Most of the walk was on sidewalks, but there are no sidewalks on Mill Street between First and Second streets, so orange cones were set up to divert vehicle traffic and provide a safe walking corridor.

Grayvold noted that his previous school district in Norway, Michigan, obtained a grant to construct sidewalks leading to the school so more students would feel safe along their walk.

“Norway was a lot like Bonduel. We had two major highways and needed those sidewalks,” Grayvold said.

The principal plans to get students walking more frequently than just Walk to School Day. He said the school district planned to start Walking Wednesdays next spring for the nine Wednesdays prior to the end of the school year and the nine Wednesdays at the start of the following school year.

Debruin said the school district could get a $500 stipend from Safe Routes to School if it follows through on its plans.

ECWRPC works with 170 school districts in the region on various health programs like Walk to School Day.

Besides Bonduel, there is also participation locally from St. James and St. Paul Lutheran schools, Sacred Heart Catholic School and Shawano, Gresham, Clintonville and Menominee Indian school districts, according to Debruin. He hopes to get school districts in the western part of Shawano County to participate eventually.

“Some only do one event like Walk to School Day,” Debruin said. “Others do the Walking School Bus, and sometimes we’ll do safety audits with them, too.”

For those who don’t have the resources to have a Walk to School Day, Safe Routes to School also provides other programs like frequent walker programs that help get students up and walking within the school. Incentives like sunglasses and Subway gift cards are provided to those who walk the most during the school year, Debruin said.

“Those who participate get a little bar code,” Debruin said. “When they scan it, it’ll show how much they’re walking.”

Getting the students to walk to school not only provides much of the daily recommended exercise — a full mile covers two-thirds of the requirements — but it also has an impact on student learning and behavior, Debruin said.

“It also reduces congestion (from vehicles), too,” he said. “If you have a school where there are a lot of cars that will drop off their students, if they walk to school, it reduces congestion and safety issues.”

A big culture change in recent years has made Walk to School Day and other physical activity events necessary, according to Debruin. It’s more convenient for families to drive children directly to school or have them ride the bus, he said, and some parents fear their children’s safety could be in jeopardy by walking to school on their own.

“That’s why we do different programming where they can walk together with adult supervision,” Debruin said. “It’s getting that fun nature back into walking.”