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Walk to School Day improves body and mind

 

Walk to School Day is officially Wednesday.

However, the international program is steered toward urging students to be physically active year round.

As communities adjust to impacts of the pandemic, schools are increasingly welcoming students back to campus. Resources are now being directed for safe and healthy commutes to school during COVID-19.



Ben Mills is a physical education teacher and coach at Lyman Gilmore Middle School in Grass Valley.

Information about Walk to School Day is funneled through PE classes. While there is no formal program for Walk to School Day, it was a point of discussion on Tuesday with the 400 students Mills teaches.




About a quarter of Mills’ students are currently walking, biking or skating to school.

“We discuss the physical benefits, but it’s more than just a class,” said Mills. “Our goal is lifelong activity. We’ll introduce them to basketball … and they’ll find they love it and try out for the basketball team in high school.”

Mills is cognizant of a balanced program, and also focuses on individual sports such as track, mountaineering and other sports not requiring a team.

“We do a few ski trips every year, except last year due to COVID,” he said.

Melissa Bill is a colleague of Mills, now in her 21st year at the school. She also told her students about the physical and mental advantages of regular exercise.

“It makes them more focused in class and ready to learn,” she said. “Mr. Mills and I both agree of the critical assets derived from staying physically active.”

PHYSICALLY FIT

Bill also recalled the grant provided to Grass Valley several years ago that improved sidewalks and crosswalks, as well as an illuminated stop sign on Main Street, all in part to encourage walking and biking to school.

“They’re (city officials) always looking for ways to improve pedestrian conveyances and make it safer,” she said. “We totally promoted safety improvements yesterday, but we also urged students to be self-aware, careful crossing streets and pay attention to traffic circulation.”

She added she has always been in support of keeping the entire population staying physically fit.

“I’m always looking for ways to inspire my classes to keep on the move, stay physically active.”

Some Walk to School Day events are part of a strategic aspect of long-range initiatives to promote safe walking and bicycling everyday. Some of these include the “bicycle train,” which gives students the chance to bicycle to school together on a designated route under supervision. Meanwhile, “bicycle rodeos” are hands-on bicycle safety lessons including bike inspections and bicycle skills practices.

In 2006, the National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) coordinated the Walk to School Day in October and Bike to School Day in May to help communities create momentum for lasting change. These events urge parents to celebrate health benefits of walking and biking, and increase visibility for traffic safety.

Safe Routes to School first began in the U.S. in the 1990s in a few cities. However, Congress approved funding for implementation of SRTS in all 50 states in 2005. A new federal transportation bill, MAP-21, made substantial changes, combining with other bicycling and walking programs into a program called transportation alternatives in 2012. This funding stream was locked into place for five years when Congress passed a new transportation law, the FAST Act in December 2015.

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com


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