Non-Sanctimonious Blog About Today: WALK TO SCHOOL DAY!

Hi Readers — I’m all for walking to school but I never expected such a beautiful blog post about it. Thank you, Massachusetts mom o’ two, Karen Allendoerfer!

WHERE WALKING GETS YOU by Karen Allendoerfer

I am the PTO Walk-to-School Coordinator for my kids’ elementary school.  I already have 2 kids, a full-time job, and a serious violin hobby, so I wasn’t exactly looking for another thing to put on my plate. But  I started walking my daughter to school after the neighborhood carpool stopped working for me.  I was done with frantically strapping kids 3 abreast into carseats, done with waiting in the line of cars in front of the school at drop-off, and done with worrying about being late. 

It was only really then that I remembered that as a child in the 1970’s, I had walked to elementary school in a suburb of Buffalo, NY.  It was about a three quarters of a mile away, around one big corner and across one big street.  I walked with my best friend, who lived next door.  This being Buffalo, we walked in all kinds of weather.  The crossing guards used to joke with us.  “It’s cold out here!  Where are your hats, ladies?”  “We hate hats!” we’d giggle as we crossed the street.

Here in the Boston suburbs in the new millennium, it’s really not that different.  It’s still a little under a mile to school, my kids still have neighbors to walk with, and there’s still snow in the winter.  But everything else seemed to have changed.  According to the International Walk to School website, 42% of students walked or bicycled to school
in 1969, compared with 16% in 2001.  I also found out that grassroots programs have started to spring up around the world.  A few schools in Hertfordshire, Great Britain, are now being credited with starting Walk-to-School Day in 1994.  Closer to home, I found that the town just to the north of where I live, Arlington MA, was selected in 2001
to be one of two cities in the country to participate in a Safe Routes to School pilot .  After the first year of the program, there was a significant increase in the number of children walking to and from the three pilot schools: 213 new walking trips a day!

I thought that if Arlington could do it, so could we. 

We started small.  The first year we celebrated International Walk-to-School day in the fall on the first Wednesday in October.  The second year we added a spring day, to get people back into it after the long winter. We had the idea that we would celebrate the beginning of spring, at the vernal equinox.  We were snowed out, and since then have joined
Massachusetts’ more prudent walk-to-school day in May.  The kids earn prizes if they walk, bike, carpool, or ride the bus 20 times.  And, on the walk-to-school days, we have celebrity walkers meeting the kids at different street corners and walking them to school.  Well, local celebrities. The town selectmen and our state representative have joined us, along with an increasing number of enthusiastic teachers.

One of the selectmen asked me, “Why do we need an event like this?” and while I was a little taken aback, I think he has a point.  The event is fun, crowded, with a lot of people there.  But really, the best walk-to-school times are still the ones when you get to know your neighborhood because you walk it:  whose dog — or guinea pig — is outside in the morning, where that stream in the back of your house actually comes out, who is repairing their driveway, and which trees lose their leaves first in the fall.

Today is International Walk to School Day.  Walk safely.

–Karen Allendoerfer is a resident of Belmont MA, and the mother a 1st grader and a 5th grader who attend Belmont public schools.

33 Responses

  1. Belmont is where my husband’s grandparents lived all their married life. What a great community!

    I organized our school’s first Walk to School Day. It’s been raining here for almost 3 weeks non-stop, so I was crossing my fingers that it would hold off this morning. We met at 7:15 to walk together and it started drizzling at 7:20. The restaurant where we met furnished muffins for everyone and we had 35 kids with parents who walked.

    Given the distance most kids live from the school and that the vast majority ride buses, I am pleased with the turnout.

    I love the idea of doing it again in the spring. The weather here is good enough to do it in March or April (sometimes even February). Our problem is that it’s just now cool enough to walk in the fall – even though school has been in session 9 weeks already.

  2. Waves to Karen! I’m in your neck of the woods! We’re in Newton, and my kids have been able to walk to all three schools: elementary, middle, and high school. Though I did drive them this morning. It was pouring down rain and they gave me the sad puppy dog eyes.🙂

  3. I never understood the whole “no walking to school”.

    At our last base, our first house we lived about a total of 4 blocks from the school. A fifteen minute walk, if anyone felt like taking it really slow, and waiting for every single car that went by. My kids were a decent age, and I trusted them all to be careful, so I let them walk to school, which they felt so proud doing. All the way up until CPS showed up at our door. They said the kids were not allowed to walk to school alone, they required an adult to walk them to and from. My biggest question was Why? They are in a gated community, the SPs travel those roads almost hourly, it is so safe, no one could sneeze without a hundred different people at hand to hand one a tissue. Why do I need to be holding their hands? I had an infant at home that was still sleeping at the time the older kids left for school.

    I was happy that was a temporary place. We moved to the other side of the base and the kids had to ride a bus, which they were not thrilled about.

    Our current place, we live diagonal from the schools. It takes 3 minutes to walk to the middle school, 5 to the elementary school. Due to a very busy road, I walk my youngest to and from. There are a few parents that live in the same building as us. They get in their cars, drive threw a 4 way stop, and park in the parking lot in front of the middle school. Wait in their cars, the kids walk to the cars, just for the parents to back up, go back threw the 4 way stop, and pull back into their parking spot.

    My kids and I are out there walking the entire time, rain, shine, and snow. The kids love it. The middle school sales hot chocolate in the mornings for fund raisers to all the walkers and busers. I have a pot of hot chocolate waiting for when we get home after school.

  4. I feel so guilty! Due to excessively heavy rain + the need to haul a violin, no one walked today. But one carpooled, and one took the school bus. We’ll probably walk on Friday though – every Friday is walk to school day at our kids’ school!

  5. Today was Walk to school day at my daughter’s school, but it was postponed because of the weather. I asked what about the kids like mine who walk to school no matter the weather, does it really make sence to postponed it. They looked at me like I had three heads.

  6. Our girl (age 10) and her Daddy walked to school today. Nobody in our (pretty free-range) neighborhood walks alone to school because of the industrial park between us and the school, and the only parent available to walk her was Daddy– but only if he could leave for work without walking back home. So, we found a place for his car near school (our community doesn’t allow parking on the streets overnight) and he drove to work after walking her.

    We’ve been experimenting with dropping her off farther and farther from school; with luck we will be able to drop her off right on our way out of town to work before the end of the year.

  7. So sad that there has to be an International Day for such a simple activity.

    My boys will walk to school today, just like they do every day. Then I’ll close the door, grab a cup of coffee in my PJs, and read stuff on the computer, just like I do every day.

  8. I live near Hamilton, OH, and while I don’t have kids of my own, I was intrigued to recently hear about Hamilton City Schools’ “walking school bus” concept that they’re debuting for Walk to School Day. Hamilton is struggling just like every other medium-sized, post-industrial city in the midwest, and some of the neighborhoods reflect that in their decreased property values and increased crime. Other newer suburban areas have had to lobby to get sidewalks at all! Having recently won a state grant to build safer walking/biking/wheelchair-using routes to its schools, HCS’s solution to put parents at ease is to designate “stops” for students around the various neighborhoods so that they can meet (as if waiting for a school bus) and walk to school together. Encouraging children to spend ANY time together outside is, to me, a step in the right direction!

  9. Alas, my kids got a ride with Daddy today. But, under normal circumstances they walk. The only days they normally get a ride are on my husband’s days off (Tuesday and Wednesday) if it is cold/raining. Otherwise they walk. It’s been 10 below and snowing, sidewalks covered in black ice and we walked.
    So, I guess it’s not a big deal for us. My kids walk to school 90% of the time and one day last week walked to school by themselves (they are in 4th, 2nd and 1st grades) because I had to run to the store and my 3yo didn’t have her shoes on. We were running late so I told them to just start walking and I would catch up but by the time we got outside they were already going around the corner on the block the school is on (which is the opposite direction from the store). So I let them go on their own.
    Then my husband has to tell me that afternoon that his friend’s daughter (I think it was) was almost grabbed while playing out in front of their house. They live in our neighborhood so he won’t allow them to walk by themselves any more. So much for that.

  10. I was proud of my kids today. Despite the rain here in MA, my 10 and 8-year-old walked by themselves -well, together but without an adult. It’ll be interesting to find out how many other kids braved the wet morning.

  11. In my area, all the schools are on fall break! So instead, we had “kids all over the neighborhood”. Better yet, I think!

  12. we need these types of days because the “it could happen” crowd has got the media, school officials, police and more convinced that by allowing your kids to walk to school, they will be kidnapped and killed

  13. We have had Safe Routes here in our district for many years (10? I can’t even remember!) and walking and biking is very common for many of the kid & parents. But we still celebrate International Walk and Bike to School Day – it’s like a big fiesta. The mayor, principals, fire department, town council members, teachers, etc. all join in. There are home made flags on bikes, big posters (my favorite: “Moms Are Not Taxi Drivers!”), walk & bike trains crossing paths (different schools participate) – it’s a big rolling party and much fun. So for us, it’s not just a way to raise awareness (and keep it up), but also just a good time. And what’s more fun to a kid than to see their principal on a scooter?

  14. Wait, going to school by city bus counts? So, then, in our family every day is Walk to School Day!😉

  15. My two younger kids can’t walk to school because it is across a highway and there is a rural winding rode with no sidewalks or even an edge to walk on – very dangerous – yet we live within two miles so they can’t get the bus unless we pay for it, which I refuse to do, so I drive them everyday. I used to walk to school everyday with my brothers and sister from first grade through 8th grade. We even used to take a short cut sometimes and cut through some woods. (This is something I would never let my kids do especially since I read the book The Lovely Bones). As you can guess, I am a perpetual worrier and my husband gets furious when I want to try and overcome that worry and let the kids do more things. I have tried to give my 7th grader more leeway and let her walk when she is with friends but my husband scares me and says it only takes one time and how our daughter will be defenseless against an adult who can easily pull her into the car. I hate to live in fear but am also terrified of making a mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life. Still, I thank you for this website, because it helps me to take baby steps at overcoming the fear and allowing my kids to grow in responsibility.

  16. Well, I walked to school in almost all weather, too, but if you have a day as miserable as today was around here, it sort of makes sense not to have this day as the day you try to get people to do it, who aren’t used to it. You don’t encourage people to adopt something new by insisting they do it for the first time under pretty rotten conditions.

  17. I posted about this on my FB status, and someone said, “You’re supposed to walk with them!” I posted back and said, Why? There’ s a crossing guard, it’s a short distance, and I walked to school when I was their age. Am waiting reply : )

    I still can’t see my way clear to letting them walk all the way to school – there’s a major street with no guard there (I am working on this) but still…I think this is awesome. I may be way more proactive about it next year and try to make a sponsored event out of it a la the blog post. Great idea!

  18. here’s the link to my city’s take on this:
    http://www.wpxi.com/news/21227929/detail.html

  19. Is this why random strangers were parked all over my housing addition a 1/4 mile away from the local school instead of in the school parking lot? I get the concept, but perhaps participation should have been limited to those who are actually within walking distance, otherwise the irony is rather self-defeating.

  20. I think if you can do it great but for those folks whose schools are too far away, don’t stress. There are other ways to let your kids be “free-range” than walking to school. Around these parts my kids cannot walk (4 lane road, speed limit 45, and no sidewalks, and it’s well over 3 miles to school) to their elementary school. However, once they reach middle and high school they will be walking or biking to school. Since those schools are well within walking distance and have sidewalks and such on the way there.

  21. I wish we lived close enough to walk to school. Alas, we are three miles along rural rds/rural hwy with no sidewalks or bike lanes or even curbs.

    I walked to school as a kid often. It was about a mile, although if I cut through people’s yards and a cemetery I could make it much shorter. It was truly no big deal. My mom had us ride the bus home most days because they put us on the third load (our school district was short on buses) and that put us getting home later…closer to when she, a single mom, would get home. Which was both a safety thing and a practical thing–I was the only girl of three kids and we would often fight with each other when left alone for too long.

    Oddly enough, some folks have criticized me for letting my five-year-old ride the bus. “Do you know what happens on those buses?” Um, yes, they sit in assigned seats. Rather than the bullying everyone worries about, I found that the older kids on our street actually look after my little one, telling her which stop is hers and when it’s coming up.

  22. Just back from a PTA meeting, where we had a discussion that was the opposite of the walk-to-school day idea. Many kids in my city walk to school because you have to live over 1.5 miles to get a bus. The principal discussed how he might be able to obtain city bus passes for students who live closer than 1.5 miles as a safety measure. In some cases this is a safety measure for the kids (middle schoolers), but it is also seen as a safety measure for others around the school. It seems that packs of kids walking home are getting into fights with kids from other schools, harassing other pedestrians, and stealing and causing other trouble for local merchants. A side of the “walk to school” movement that I hadn’t considered before. Ideas on how to improve this situation? School administrators, business owners and police are already talking, but I’d hate to end up with a “no walking to school” rule because of these incidents, which are not trivial.

    Oh, and we have had two, possibly three, attempted stranger abductions in our region (only one in our city) recently, so I’m doubting the wisdom of giving my daughter more freedoms. The good news is that these were attempted, not successful, abductions because of the kids’ split-second reactions. They obviously were taught well on how the sorts of things to look out for and what to do.

  23. Susan, there isn’t a whole lot that the school can do to prevent random city violence just because the perpetrators are children, and, even if they can, that would be both the children’s parents AND the police falling down on their jobs. I really don’t see why the police are talking to the school instead of the parents of these kids. And don’t say “they can’t catch them,” because if it is a known problem worthy of addressing, they’d have an officer in the area.

  24. Our neighborhood school only buses in children that come for special programs. Everyone else is close enough that they are expected to be able to walk. I visited the school on Monday, and the bike rack was just crammed full of all sorts of rainbow-colored bicycles. It made me happy to see after reading about other schools and their craziness. My daughter is only 2 and I have to admit that I think we live too far away for her to walk by herself when she’s a kindergartner, but we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll find someone to walk with her. (I’m concerned about her getting lost, not snatched.)

  25. lisa c: What might help with your husband is to point out that girls your daughter’s age are at less risk of being abducted/raped than girls a few years older (simply because there are far more people who would rape a 16-year-old than a 12-year-old) and that therefore now is the safest time for her to learn and practice protective behaviors like being aware of her surroundings and conveying an attitude of confidence. It’s more dangerous for her to wait until she’s at greater risk to start practicing.

  26. Most of the kids in Belmont don’t walk by themselves until they reach middle school age. We are also trying to get parents to form “Walking School Buses” where parents take turns walking one day a week with the kids. Many parents find this easier than being on the hook every day to get their own kid to school.

    And we don’t want to leave anyone out. Kids who take the bus also get the traveler ticket incentives. Someone suggested to me recently that the school bus fees are exactly backwards: what if people got a bus for free and instead had to pay for the convenience of driving?

  27. Alana M, on October 7th, 2009 at 10:35 pm Said:

    So sad that there has to be an International Day for such a simple activity.

    I couldn’t agree more.. My kids walk on their own, to their (now) separate schools every day..

  28. @karen – I agree with you totally. But school is getting involved, rightly so, partly because the kids’ behavior is a reflection on the school. (And to be clear, many of the kids do not go to this particular school, but the school already has a reputation as “bad.”) Police, school and merchants are working together to see what they can do. And now if you get arrested on your way to/from school, it will be reported to the school, and you will have consequences at the school – suspension, social service intervention, or whatever the case calls for. However, it still has an impact on the kids if people outside the school put pressure on the school to require kids to take a bus rather than walk.

    @ebohlman. Great point,and one that gave me the incentive to give my daughter more freedom. I realized that most of the abduction cases in our area over the years were of college-aged women. I figured I needed to teach my daughter independence in small ways so she would be in less danger when she finally goes off on her own.

  29. My boy walks to school most days, as do many of the kids in our neighborhood. It makes me proud to see all the kids making their way in the morning. Since I’ve started letting the boy walk, his in class behavior has improved and he’s been itching for other responsibilities. I worried at first, but now when he asks me to wait, I remind him that he can walk. Yesterday we walked out the door at the same time and he took off before I could give him a kiss and tell him to make good choices. But when I pulled out of the garage and down the block he stopped, blew me a kiss and then ran all the way to meet the crossing guard. I’m realizing that letting him walk is one of the best things I could have done for him, he really loves it and its less stressfull than waiting in.a line of cars at the school drop off point.

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