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Students set to hit pavement
Walk to School Day is Wednesday
From left, Zy Kala Martin, Ja’Mere Eggleston-Smith and Jamaga Eggleston-Smith walk to school for Albert Harris Elementary School’s fourth Walk-Up Wednesday of the 2011-12 school year, held in April. Area schools will celebrate International Walk to School Day on Wednesday. The day is intended to promote physical activity. (Photo by Kim Barto)
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Local schools will take part Wednesday in the International Walk to School Day, an annual event that is expected to involve schools across the United States and 40 other countries.
According to a news release from Richmond-based nonprofit Prevention Connections, which helped fund 50 walking events in Virginia, 13 percent of children aged 5 to 14 walked or bicycled to school in 2009. That was compared to 48 percent of students in a 1969 survey by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The walking effort is aimed at battling childhood obesity, which affects one in three children in America, the release said. For some local schools, Wednesday’s events will be in a controlled environment for practical reasons.
“Our school is at the end of a street, so our kids can’t walk to school,” said Amanda Pulliam, physical education instructor at Mt. Olivet Elementary.
For that reason, Pulliam and some of her colleagues will construct a makeshift neighborhood in the parking lot of the school where children can walk and ride bicycles throughout the day. Complete with road signs and traffic cones for boundaries, the course will be built from scratch.
“It’s almost like a neighborhood party where they get to ride around the neighborhood,” Pulliam said.
Mt. Olivet was one of 50 Virginia schools to receive a grant from Prevention Connections, which Pulliam used to buy about 10 bikes from local retailers. Five to 10 additional bikes will be donated for the school to use by Activate Martinsville Henry County. Students cannot bring their own bikes from home, Pulliam said, but were encouraged to bring helmets.
Pulliam said the bikes purchased by the grant were a huge help to the school.
“A lot of our kids here, they’re underprivileged, and they don’t have bikes at home, so it’s important for them to learn to ride,” she said.
Parents have been invited to help, and in addition to biking and walking, students can hop, jump rope or bounce balls in the “neighborhood.”
Matthew Rowe, physical education teacher at Albert Harris Elementary, said students there either will walk around the building after getting off the bus in the morning or, if their parents drive them, will get out at Baldwin Park near the school and walk up the hill to the building.
“It would be nice if we had a track we could walk around,” he said. “We have to do what we can around the school.”
Rowe said police and firefighters will help direct traffic so everyone will stay safe and on course.
Though International Walk to School Day is aimed at increasing the amount of physical activity done by students, many local schools have a head start on the effort. Rowe said Albert Harris used to do four “walk to school” events when weather allowed it, which developed into a daily activity that now is part of the school’s routine.
Each day before school, children have the opportunity to walk laps around the gym for 25 minutes, Rowe said.
“They don’t ask. They just enjoy walking, talking and listening to music,” he said.
Since the Wildcat Walk for Fitness began, the demand has become so great that Rowe has had to schedule two or three grades per day to avoid filling the gym with more than 300 children. Now, he said, between 75 and 125 students walk each day.
“It gives them a way to work off some energy,” he said. “For some of them, if they walk the full 25 minutes, they’re walking more than a mile.”
Though Mt. Olivet will have to take down its neighborhood course, Pulliam said last week she intends to continue to clear areas of the parking lot for children to ride the school’s new bikes throughout the year.
“Now kids are getting excited because they know we’ll get to keep the bikes,” she said.
Collinsville Primary School held a school-wide walk Sept. 21 as part of the school’s “Commit to Be Fit” campaign. The response to it was so great, physical education teacher Cherie Whitlow said last week, that the school now plans to do four community walks on the course it built around the school.
“Teachers can use it on their breaks. They can bring their kids for recess,” she said.
Whitlow plans to create T-shirts to sell to help fund the community walks, the first of which will be held at Jack Dalton Park in October. She said she hopes to see several community members again helping encourage kids in their goal of being healthy in mind and body.
“Everybody has really bought in,” Whitlow said. “It’s been like a cross-curricular event.”
More information about International Walk to School Day is available at www.walktoschool.org.