Decatur’s Safe Routes to School program has a message for parents: Want to prevent your child from getting fat and get them to talk to you every day? Walk or bike to school with them daily.
“I love the morning ritual,” said Lesley Stuart, who will be walking to Tuesday morning for her son Lachlan’s first day of fifth grade.
Stuart has walked her son to school for most of the days he’s attended school. Besides the obvious health benefits to having kids burn cornflakes instead of fossil fuel getting to school, walking to school offers priceless parenting benefits, said Stuart, who was the program’s coordinator at Glenwood.
“It gives my kids time to talk to me when they wouldn’t normally otherwise talk to me,” said Stuart, who will also be walking with dogs Otto and Bruno. “I have a captive audience. It’s really quite nice.”
Stuart is one of the parent volunteers for Decatur’s Safe Routes to School Program, part of a national program which aims to get as many students as possible to walk or ride bicycles to school.
Decatur has has an active program since 2005, and the city’s Active Living division started managing it during the 2008-09 school year. The program sponsors monthly Walk and Roll to School days at each school, with parent volunteers leading walking school buses or bike trains to school. The program hopes to add this year.
Because Fifth Avenue will serve all of the city’s fourth and fifth graders, but isn’t centrally located, Safe Routes to School volunteers surveyed parents and worked with Decatur planning and engineering staff, Decatur Active Living staff and schools staff to create the safest routes for kids walking and biking to school, said Stuart. During the summer, volunteers and staff walked potential routes and pointed out problems such as traffic issues, crosswalks and obstacles in the path.
The final step was to implant medallions into sidewalks designating the safest route to walk to school. Parents can download a map of the designated routes from throughout the city.
Greg Coleson, another volunteer, is hoping to set up a Walk and Roll meeting point in the southeast corner of the East Lake MARTA parking lot, with an adult guiding students on the 20-minute walk to school. Coleson is also urging Fifth Avenue principal Bruce Roaden to consider running a bus from the center of Decatur to the school so that anyone who wanted to walk their child to school could do it.
“Encouraging kids to walk to school any way we can is one positive thing we can do to combat childhood obesity, since Georgia is number 2 in childhood obesity,” said Coleson. “Not something to be proud of.”