Despite the dense fog on Oct. 3, hundreds of students from Eagleville and Woodland elementary schools embarked on a practice rarely seen since their parents attended those schools themselves.
The event was a part of the 2012 International Walk To School Day, designed to encourage school children to celebrate the benefits of walking or biking to school.
“It’s a throwback to the old days,” Jason Sorgini, principal of Eagleville Elementary school, said.
According to Sorgini, in decades past, most students used to walk to Eagleville Elementary via an aptly named road called “Walker Lane.” However, this year’s event, which started at 8:45 a.m., took the approximately 300 Eagleville students down a paved multi-use trail through Eagleville Park in Eagleville, which leads to their school.
Woodland Elementary school students were said to have walked with responsible adults from their neighborhoods to the school.
According to Methacton School District officials, this was the second year that Methacton School District students have participated in the international event, which is coordinated by the National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS).
According to the SRTS, in a recent Patch Blog about the event, there are several benefits of walking or biking to school:
- Fitness and Health
- Concentration at School
- Road Safety Skills
- Socializing and Independence
“We’re just thrilled to be a part of supporting our kids getting some exercise before school,” Dr. Timothy Quinn, Methacton School District Superintendent, said. “It speaks so well of parents, teachers and the community to see such support of our students.”
Quinn joined other district and school administrators, teachers and adult volunteers from the community, who stood along the sidelines of the Eagleville Park trail, encouraging students and praising them for participating in the event.
All about Walking Safety
Among the adult volunteers were staff from FedEx, whose company helped sponsor the event nationwide. Clarence Washington, the managing director for domestic ground operations of the FedEx Liberty District, was one of several special guest speakers at the school assembly, following the morning walk.
“We came today because we really wanted to bring in an awareness about walking safety,” Washington said.
According to Washington, FedEx has 90,000 trucks on the road each day, which is a big reason why they promote pedestrian safety. He stated that 14,000 children arrive in the emergency room nationwide, due to pedestrian-related injuries.
Gina Duchossois, a fellow guest speaker, represented the Safe kids Southeastern Pennsylvania Coalition. She also works in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s trauma ward. She explained that there are more than 500 children killed in pedestrian-related incidents across the country each year.
Lower Providence Police Chief Francis Carroll, who also took the walk from Eagleville Park to the elementary school, explained to the students how being distracted while walking, such as using headphones or ear buds, is unsafe.
“We not only use our eyes, we use our ears,” Carroll said, also referring to the practice of looking both ways down the road for oncoming traffic.
The final guest speaker, Brandi Chawaga, director of Health Promotion for Montgomery County Health Department (MCHD), reviewed traffic and pedestrian signs with the students, and was assisted by the elementary school’s eagle mascot.
Prior to the Oct. 3 Walk to School event, MCHD staff visited the school to further emphasize pedestrian safety. According to Pat Fallon, MCHD health educator, a few of the second-grade classes at Eagleville were given flashlights and reflectors for their clothing to help them be more visible.
“It’s good for exercise, good for the environment, good for everyone,” Fallon said. “And, it’s fun.”
The ‘Walking School Bus’
One of the event’s adult volunteers is a returning volunteer from last year. Lisa Yanak helped guide and keep students safe during Methacton’s own walking program, called “The Walking School Bus.”
Yanak is a retired Eagleville Elementary teacher, who taught at the school for 37 years. She also attended the school as a child. She recalled enjoying her walks to school as both a student and a teacher, and wanted to encourage the experience with today’s youth.
“We are a neighborhood school,” Yanak said. “When they started doing this program, I wanted to help.”
According to Janeen Marzewski, Coordinator of Methacton School District Services and Safety, the district received a SRTS grant last year to initiate a walking program.
A part of the grant was for a walking audit, which determined the walkability of a school, leaving Woodland and Eagleville as the best and only choices for the Walking School Bus program.
Marzewski said that the grant helped train volunteer adults on pedestrian safety, as well as provide the volunteers with reflective vests and signs cautioning motorists of the walking children.
Students, in turn, received kid-friendly pedometers that brought them closer to health-related prizes with each added step.
The program started in March, and was available every Wednesday to interested students. Marzewski said that student participation largely depended on the weather, but at its most popular, the Walking School Bus program attracted over 75 students. She added that an adult volunteer is needed for every 10 students.
Parents and guardians at the two elementary schools may soon expect school district literature announcing the Oct. 17 start of this year’s Walking School Bus program.