Just because it’s the dead of winter with temperatures hovering below zero doesn’t mean children shouldn’t be walking to school on a daily basis. The practice was promoted this week by the Region of Waterloo’s Active and Safe Routes to School Workgroup as part of their fifth annual winter walk day and crossing guard appreciation day.
“It encourages students to talk with each other and to develop friendships. It’s just a matter of dressing them appropriately for the weather. There’s no such thing as ‘bad weather’ just inappropriate clothing,” said Ruth Dyck, the program chair and a registered nurse with the public health department at the Region of Waterloo.
“There was a time previously where it was unheard of that parents would drive their children to school, and that’s changed somewhat throughout the years. Now it’s not uncommon to see the children being driven to and from school, even when they are within walking distance.”
Dyck said that having more children walking to school holds many short-term and long-term benefits for both the students and the environment. It means less traffic congestion, reduced air pollution, and can lead to a safer community by have more eyes on the street.
“We know if students enjoy walking sooner, it’s more likely that they will continue that as a life-long behavior, because it’s enjoyable and it’s fun. Especially in the townships, we have such tremendous trails and trail systems that are often not even used.”
The initiative started in Waterloo five years ago before it was taken to the national level by greencommunities.org and the group decided to pair the event with Crossing Guard Appreciation Day to promote the safety aspect of the activity, and to give thanks to the ordinary people who make that happen.
The Township of Woolwich has eight supervised school crossing locations with nine regular crossing guards that look after them, said deputy clerk Val Hummel. There are also eight people who serve as spares and fill in if the regular guards are absent.
“Crossing guards serve students, parents, and anyone that needs help crossing the street. The guards go out in all types of weather every school day, are punctual and dedicated, and enjoy working with the students. I appreciate them every day,” Hummel said.
Some parents may be concerned if their children walk to school on their own, and Dyck said that there are programs to help alleviate those concerns.
“Some of our schools have what are called walking school buses, where a group of students walk together. One student starts and they pick up students along the way. That’s particularly good if there is an older student and a parent with a younger child who might not be as comfortable with allowing that younger child walk to school,” noted Dyck.
There are two other walking days scheduled for 2011, one coming up in April and another in the fall.