We’ve all heard the stories from our grandparents about how they had to walk to school every day, uphill, in the blinding snow. This past Wednesday, however, millions of children around the world and hundreds of local students shared in that experience when they participated in the 11th annual International Walk to School Day.
Also referred to as iWalk, the day is part of International Walk to School Month, an initiative that began back in 2000 as a way to encourage people to make the world a more walkable place by signaling the need for safer streets, to promote healthier habits and to help protect the environment.
Here in Waterloo Region, the public and the Catholic school board have been active participants in the program for the past decade.
“Over three million children from more than 40 countries on six continents, from India to Italy and South Africa, are all participating,” said Ruth Dyck, a public health nurse for Waterloo Region who first spearheaded the initiative.
“It’s kind of neat to think that all the kids are walking to school on the same day.”
iWalk has also become a component of the school board’s new Active Transportation Charter which was adopted last May in an effort to promote active means of transport such as walking, cycling, in-line skating or skateboarding to school as opposed to riding the bus or getting a drive from parents.
And while Dyck admits there are some challenges in having all children walk to school, particularly in the rural schools throughout the region, the board has tried to mitigate those limitations by having school buses stop a short distance from the school and letting the kids walk the rest of the way, or by having designated times during the day when children can go outside and walk to become a part of the event.
Riverside PS in Elmira is one example of what the school board hopes to achieve through the iWalk
program. Of the 300 students at the school, only about 40 are bussed and the majority of the rest walk to school nearly every single day.
First-year principal Brent Hatcher said that no parents have voiced any safety concerns to him or his staff about students walking to school, and that children who walk to school demonstrate many positive traits from doing so.
“Certainly I think there’s a social benefit, and if you walk to school with friends you can interact with them in a very social way, and I think that would certainly translate into better interaction on the playground,” he said.
Dyck agreed with Hatcher, and said that she has not received any safety concerns from parents about walking to school, and says it’s a nice alternative from our cultural reliance on cars and other vehicles.
“Sometimes it’s just easier for parents to drop their kids off at school rather than take those extra few minutes and walk to school. So that’s why we’re making a concerted effort to say it’s really important for your child to walk to school.”
Luckily, with highs touching 19 degrees and not a cloud in the sky on Wednesday students didn’t have a snow storm to contend with, even if they did have to walk uphill both ways.