If you have ever been to a school at the start or the end of the day, in particular at the elementary level, it can be like taking your life into your own hands, and that of your child or children, as parents scramble to drop off or pick up their kids.
Cars parked where they shouldn’t be. School buses boxed in. Staff acting as car and crowd control.
Don’t kids walk to school anymore? They do. Unfortunately, out of convenience for parents, more and more children are being picked up and dropped off at the end of the school day, according to Naomi Wachowiak, a public health nurse with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
To get more children to walk or wheel to school, the health unit has implemented the Simcoe Muskoka Active School Travel project, funded by Green Communities Canada, in cooperation with school boards and municipalties.
About 17 schools are participating in Simcoe Muskoka including four in Barrie.
At Trillium Woods Elementary School, in a relatively new south end Barrie neighbourhood today, representatives from the health unit, police, city and school officials and several students gathered to take part in a School Walkabout. They walked routes around the school that students walk.
Wachowiak says the walkabout is one of the most important parts of the School Travel Planning process.
” We are looking for things that might not let kids walk to school safely or things that are really great, such as parks. We look at the positive and the negative things on how to encourage kids to walk to school more often.”
Wachowiak says they look at whether there is too much traffic, is there not a crosswalk where there should be and are kids using the infrastructure properly.
Children have to be 1.6 kilometres from their school before they are eligible for a bus. Anything under that, students have to find their own way to school.
Wachowiak quite often finds kids that are being driven are considered too young by their parents to walk or they don’t have an older sibling to walk to school with. There is also this perception says Wachowiak that it is safe to be driven to school, even for older students.
Besides the physical benefits that come with walking, there are benefits to the environment by leaving the car at home.
” We want to reduce that traffic and congestion around schools. One of the goals is to reduce that chaos around the schools.”
To gauge whether the program is working and more kids are walking or wheeling, the health unit is doing family surveys, in the fall and spring, as well as a hands up survey with students.
Wachowiak says if you get your kids walking to school, they are ready to learn.