Monday, April 28, 2014

Walk Your Kids to School Challenge

Last week the Toronto Police Service, in association with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and the Ministry of Transportation, launched a four-week pedestrian safety education campaign called the  “Walk Your Kids to School Challenge.”  They have set this up as a contest, encouraging competition among classes at participating schools, to see who can get the most kids walking. Educational materials will be provided to participating schools to support their efforts.

I think this is a great campaign, as it not only encourages healthy physical activity, but incorporates education around traffic and pedestrian safety with an aim to keep our school-aged kids safe on the roads. According to the TPS, the campaign's goals are as follows:
  • Increase awareness on pedestrian safety 
  • Reduce collisions and injuries in school zones 
  • Reduce traffic congestion during drop-off and pick-up times 
  • Reduce parking issues on school property

I don't know about you, but I'm shocked at the volume of vehicles in our tiny school parking lot every day. We are a very small, community school (about 200 students JK-8, plus 3 special education classes) and a very small proportion of the kids live outside of the immediate neighbourhood. There are a few I know who legitimately need to be driven, but there are a great many who hop in their cars to drive the kids 2 or 3 blocks.  I don't think that's either healthy for the children, or safe in terms of increased volume of traffic. And I can't understand it.

Our principal has been working with TPS and our Parent Council (disclosure - I'm on it) to improve safety and traffic flow. We've installed bike racks and removed parking spaces to improve sight lines. Two staff stand on the curb at a designated "kiss and ride" area where parents stop their cars, and the staff open the door to get the kids out. Parents stay in the vehicle. And there have been numerous requests and reminders of the health benefits and desirability of walking. Oh! We also have crossing guards. Things have improved from last year, but some parents still insist on driving the short distances, adding vehicles to the mix and removing the opportunity to set a great example of healthy living.

Back when I was a kid, walking was the norm, unless you lived far enough away to be bused. My dad drove my brother and me in elementary school, because our school was near his work rather than near our home, and we stood out for that. Even the first graders were walking back and forth on their own. But once we hit 7th grade and changed schools we walked it - 30 minutes each way. No biggie.

I think it's pretty sad that so many kids aren't getting this exercise these days. What a great opportunity to encourage independence and an appreciation for physical activity. If kids see walking as a regular daily mode of transportation, don't you think they'll be more likely to choose their feet over the car in later years when they just need to run to the corner store?

Kudos on this campaign! I hope it has a great impact on parents and students across the city.

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