|Walk Your Kid to School Today?|
|By Glenn Perkins|
From the Greensboro News & Record (10/6/2010)
Each morning my son dons his helmet, hops on his bike, and pedals three blocks to Greensboro's 1928 Lindley Elementary School. I race behind on foot.
Two years ago there were 25 students walking to Lindley Elementary; this year there are 75. Hopefully even more will be joining us as part of International Walk to School Day today.
Of course, whenever someone organizes a "day" to highlight an activity, it hints that there's a problem. In 1969 87% of U.S. students lived within a mile of school; today, only 35% of K-8 students live within two miles of them.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, in cooperation with the EPA, recently published "Helping Johnny Walk to School." The report highlights ways cities can support community-centered schools. Sensible site-selection criteria for new schools can help put new schools in more densely populated places and ensure student diversity. Some new suburban schools are built in places it's just not safe for kids to walk to. Guilford County Schools can coordinate with city and county planning departments and neighborhood organizations to put new schools in places that will help both the school and community thrive.
And don't forget the existing schools. Greensboro's Craven School on Ashland Avenue lies empty but could once again be a walk-to school for Highland Park and Lindley Park neighborhoods. Studies by the University of Michigan and others have shown that rehabilitation of schools with established community connection is consistently cheaper and more effective than building new schools. And where new schools are needed, we can look to Washington, D.C., and other cities that have adaptively reused existing buildings to house schools. To quote architect Carl Elefante, the greenest building is the one that's already built.
Greensboro is lucky to have great community-centered schools citywide, from Dudley High School to Aycock Middle to Irving Park Elementary. They are all easily accessible for walkers, yet this year only Lindley and Claxton Elementary are participating in the International Walk to School Day. Hopefully, next year more will join us. You can find out more at the National Center for Safe Routes to School (www.saferoutesinfo.org).
Walking or biking to school provides a quadruple dose of goodness. It's good for the environment, reducing vehicular miles and traffic congestion that make for bad air locally and tons of carbon atmospherically. It's good for your health, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both advocated it as a way to combat childhood obesity.
It's good, too, for community. As a community-centered school Lindley elementary and its neighborhoods stimulate each other. Having a desirable school has helped property values remain fairly steady even through the recession, and neighborhood folks enjoy the school's nature trail, awesome sledding hill, and baseball field.
Principal Merrie Conaway says that parental involvement at the school has been increasing at pace with the number of walkers. "I've noticed parents walking to school forming friendships, and they encourage one another to get involved, even in informal ways."
Most important, to me anyway, is that walking to school is a learning opportunity. From the first step out the door, my son's school day has already begun. And it's a pretty advanced curriculum for first grade, including Biology (What are these bugs flying around? That flower wasn't there yesterday!), Physics (Momentum equals mass times velocity . . . pedal harder!), Sociology (Why do some drivers let you cross at the crosswalk but others just barrel through?).
And as Guilford County Schools looks to promote character development system-wide, I'm reminded of one other lesson of my son's daily commute: there's a lot to learn from getting somewhere under your own power.