By TEDDYE SNELL
A generation ago, more often than not, students who within a community walked to school every day, with the only exception being inclement weather.
Today, most kids are either driven to school by their parents or ride buses, even when the distance between home and school is short enough to walk.
Wednesday was International Walk To School Day, and students, parents, teachers and administrators from all four elementary schools took part in the event.
Greenwood Elementary School students gathered in the parking lot of the Tahlequah Senior Citizens Center, braving chilly early-morning temperatures.
Greenwood Principal Susan VanZant gathered her group together, which was escorted by a Cherokee Nation marshal, a Tahlequah school resource officer, representatives from the city and the Cherokee County Health Department.
“This is all part of our Safe Routes to School program,” said Clint Johnson, coordinator of the Safe Routes program for the city. “This is International Walk to School Day, and hopefully, we can keep up the consistency by maybe instituting ‘Walking Wednesdays,’ or something.”
Before the walk began, Johnson told VanZant that Dan Burden, co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, praised Greenwood’s student pick-up and drop-off system. Burden held a forum last week to discuss what can be done to make Tahlequah a “walkability friendly” community, and the health benefits that arise from people walking.
“He said your pick-up and drop-off arrangement was the best he’d ever seen in the country,” said Johnson. “He talked about it during the forum last week, and I thought you should know.”
Sarah Johnson, Turning Point coordinator for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, recently led a training for local agencies to create a health improvement plan for the community. She participated in Greenwood’s walk to school effort, and was pleased with the turnout.
“Our goal is to find way to encourage kids to walk to school,” said Sarah Johnson.
International Walk to School Day is a global event that involves communities from more than 40 countries walking and biking to school on Oct. 9. What began in 1997 as a one-day event has become part of a movement for year-round safe routes to school. Today, thousands of schools across the country, from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, participate.
The event was originally organized by the Partnership for a Walkable America, and became an international observance in 2000, when the United Kingdom and Canada joined together.
In 2005, federal legislation established a National Safe Routes to School Program, providing $612 million towards building walkable routes to school from 2005-2010. More than 14,500 schools across the country have been awarded federal funds for Safe Route to Schools activities.