Foot power is powerful stuff for Blackwell students
October 16, 2013
Casey Engstrom has been helping her sons, Josh and Luke, get to and from Blackwell Elementary School for the better part of the last six years.
For Engstrom, the Oct. 9 International Walk to School event at the Lake Washington district school was the proverbial icing on her cake. She has helped organize a “walking school bus” for her Sammamish neighborhood in which parents lead children on their morning journey to the school, and back to their homes in the afternoon.
“In our little neighborhood, our little cul-de-sac, we’ve got seven families and a total of 13 kids,” Engstrom said. “The kids all love it because they get to talk to their friends as they walk to school, and then they’re safe because there’s a parent there as well.”
In 2011, the last available year for data, millions of children in 42 countries participated in International Walk to School Day. Blackwell has been part of the event since 2008, and Engstrom’s walking bus is now one of several at the school, said Karen Santini, the parent of a fifth-grader.
“More people are seeing how it really helps out to work together to get the children to school,” Santini said, “and then the children love it, because they all chat and get to know each other and see each other in the morning.”
Walking to school each day has many other benefits, proponents said. It’s good exercise and helps promote healthy habits from a young age. It promotes interaction between children and adults, creating safer, more connected communities. It also reduces traffic congestion and air pollution, and it saves money for parents on their gasoline bills.
At Blackwell, students have been given calendars for October. Their challenge is to mark when they’ve walked or taken their bike to school, and when they’ve walked to their school bus route. Blackwell’s PTA has partnered with several local businesses to provide prizes to choice students who return their completed calendars in November.
The demographics of Blackwell’s population may have something to do with the successful focus on walking. The majority of the school’s 370 full-time students live within walking distance of the building.
“We’re just very lucky that we live in a walking (community),” Engstrom said. “Blackwell is a walking school, and I think there’s two buses that come to school, but everybody else can walk.”
Parents and teachers with stickers greeted students on foot and bicycle last week, and the children were also allowed to write their names in chalk on the Blackwell “Sidewalk of Fame.”
Santini said parents like Engstrom deserve credit for the school’s successful efforts. Engstrom leads email communications that makes sure parents and children know exactly when and where they need to be each day, and that volunteers step in for those who are sick or have other commitments.
“It’s pretty organized in that everybody’s assigned a certain day,” Engstrom said. “All the kids know where to meet, and it’s more like, ‘It takes a village,’ than a co-op preschool.”
Santini said her daughter hasn’t been tardy since joining the walking bus.
“Part of it is the peer group going to school,” Santini said. “There’s a group waiting. You’re not jumping in a car and racing off. You’ve got your friends to meet at the corner. There’s a routine, and other people are relying on you.”