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.

Get Thee Behind Me, Cupcake

Dear Readers: Use your imagination to conjure up the deepest, most Moviefone-ish voice in your head and now hear it intoning this: “In a world, where the school day is 10 hours long. In a world, where there is no summer vacation. In a world where recess is shortened to make time for test prep and teachers cannot hug a second grader who has collapsed under the weight of her 28-pound backpack, comes the unthinkable: No bake sales.”

It’s enough to make Jerry Bruckheimer hide under his desk, but in my own little burg, New York City, the powers that be are now hard at work at banishing bake sales to just once a month, and only AFTER lunch has been consumed or 6 p.m. (presumably whichever comes first). This is supposed to prevent obesity.

You want to prevent obesity, Mr. Mayor? How about making recess an hour long, every day? How about guaranteeing gym three days a week? How about putting crossing guards at all the major intersections so kids come skipping to school? (Ours was there maybe 1/8th of the time.) How about banning car drop-offs? How about making enough real lunch so that hungry kids can always have seconds, so they don’t NEED a cupcake to fill them up? (At my kids’ school, the lunch ladies often ran short.) 

I agree, I guess, that American kids are getting too much junk food, but bake sales raise money and morale at the same time. They’re fun. They’re communal. They’re CUPCAKES, for gosh’ sake, not crack cakes. Here’s the article on the whole shebang. Long live the bake sale!!

Study: More Gym + Nutrition Ed Doesn’t Slim Kids Down (And I Think I Know Why)

Cool entry on the “Alas, A Blog” blog   questioning the conventional wisdom that holds: If only kids had more gym, health and nutrition classes, they’d all slim down. An eight-year study of about 1700 kids gave half of them a greatly enhanced gym/nutrition/health curriculum (and healthier cafeteria food), while the other half got the same old same old.  Kids were measured in third grade and again in fifth and surprise (there goes the grant!), there was no difference in the two groups as far as weight was concerned.

The “Alas” blogger rightly asks whether weight should matter anyway: If the group with the gym curriculum was more active, happy or fit, that certainly seems more important than whether they could squeeze into smaller undies. But MY point is that I’m not surprised by the outcome, because it’s not just gym that makes a difference in kids’ lives. It’s what kids do OUTSIDE of school, too.

BEYOND GYM

When principals forbid them to ride their bikes to school (and I’ll post a another Outrage about that soon),  when  parents are afraid to let them go to the park, when their friends are not allowed to venture out the front door, what can kids do before or after school except hang out inside?

And what generally happens there? They’re not jogging in place while poking around YouTube. And if they’re watching TV, cue the dancing Pop-Tarts! Even organized sports programs don’t offer the insurance of exercise (or fun). When my kids were playing on our local Y’s baseball team, they stood around for about 60 of the 90 minutes, waiting in the outfield for a ball that never came, or waiting for their turn at bat that felt like it would never come, or eating the snack that always DID come, because we parents were required to schlep it. (Why was snack a requirement, anyway?)

In short: We can program as much health as we want into the curriculum, and as the sister of a former high school health-ed teacher, I say: Yay! Let’s do it! I’m all for health class. BUT until we start letting kids get out there and organize their own games of tag, and kick ball and roll down the steep, rocky hill (okay, maybe not that one — Free-Range has its limits), they’re going to be inside. Who’s dancing and prancing and getting all that healthy exercise in  there?

Looks like the Pop-Tarts.  — Lenore, who thanks Kelly Hogaboom for sending this story in.  Kelly’s blog is right here!

Mom Threatens School For Serving Her Kid A Cupcake

Here’s a wild New York Times piece about a mom who is fighting mad about  her kid’s school sometimes  serving  junk food. While the school lunches are nutritious, the mom is livid that some party treats, like cupcakes, are not. Quote the mom:  “I thought I was sending my kid to P.S. 9, not Chuck E. Cheese.”

Now, not that I am pro-junk food (said your blogger, popping  another M&M thoughtfully). But  I don’t think we are poisoning our children when they get to eat something sugary at a school birthday party. Or any birthday party. Feed your kids nutritious meals, and then? Let them eat cake. 

Did someone else say that first?

 — L.