It just makes common sense: The more you encourage kids to walk to school — and the safer it is for them to do so — the more they will use their own two feet or bicycles to get to school.
And this kind of active transportation is good news for kids.
It means more exercise, which translates to physically and mentally healthier kids; studies have shown that increased exercise means children arrive at school eager to learn, have reduced levels of stress, improved mood and better social opportunities.
This is the basic premise behind National Safe Routes to School, a nationwide program that encourages children to bike or walk to schools, and an initiative being implemented by several area schools.
But it is always good to check and see if efforts made in any program are, in fact, making a difference.
So is it working?
Evaluation is an important component in any Safe Routes to School program. The Southwest Region Planning Commission is partnering with Healthy Monadnock, Antioch University New England and area schools to examine the impact of the program using surveys of walkers/bikers and an “implementation index” that looks at 14 levels of school participation in the program.
One step in the Safe Routes to School evaluation was completed this fall; volunteers counted the number of children who walked to school at four area elementary schools participating in the program including Symonds, Fuller and Wheelock Schools in Keene, and Marlborough School. SWRPC is also working with the Keene Middle School, Hinsdale Elementary School, Hinsdale Middle/High School, Cutler Elementary in Swanzey, and Troy Elementary on developing Safe Route to Schools action plans.
Counting the bikers and walkers
Megan Edwards, an evaluation coordinator at Antioch University New England says that future counts at these schools can be used to examine whether the number of student walkers and bikers are increasing as schools progress in their Safe Routes program implementation.
Edwards is working with Healthy Monadnock staff to conduct the study paid for by Healthy Monadnock’s monies from a Partnerships to Improve Community Health grant received from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last year.
Some initial studies of Symonds School, for example, which started a walk-to-school program five years ago, has shown that between 2011 and 2015 the percentage of students who walked to school increased from 11 percent to 26 percent; the percentage of students who rode to school in a family vehicle decreased from 55 percent to 37 percent.
“It’s great to see more students walking and biking to school but we’ve also seen an increased participation by the parents. Many are opting to walk with their kids instead of driving and dropping them off. They get more exercise, spend time with their kids, and reduce the emissions-based smog from idling cars,” said Beth Corwin, Physical Education at Symonds School.
The implementation index in conjunction with the surveys will help examine the impact of the Safe Routes to School programs and provide schools with the information they need to make informed decisions regarding their program.
Schools could use the evaluation results to apply for grants to improve their program and even apply for grants to help implement parts of their Safe Routes to School plan.
Check out 101 Interesting Facts about Safe Routes to School.
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ABOUT SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is a nonprofit organization that improves quality of life for kids and communities by promoting healthy living, safe infrastructure and physical activity, starting with bicycling and walking to school and beyond. Safe Routes to School advances policy change; catalyzes support with a network of more than 750 partner organizations, as well as schools, policy makers, and grassroots supporters. Learn more: www.saferoutesinfo.org.