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Walking Buses Gain Speed

Walking to school combats obesity and increases student concentration, according to a Danish study released last year. Children who walk or bike to school performed better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, than those who traveled by car or bus, the researchers found.

However, students are walking to school far less than in the past, says a report from the federally funded National Center for Safe Routes to School, an organization that assists states and communities in implementing safe walking or biking to school programs. In 1969, 48 percent of children age 5 to 14 usually walked or biked to school, compared to just 13 percent in 2009, the report states.

With this in mind, districts are increasingly encouraging students to get moving. As of 2011, over 10,000 schools received grants from the Safe Routes to School program to promote student walking and biking to school. And last fall, over 4,200 schools participated in international Walk to School Day, sponsored by the program. “You’re teaching the children about well-being—not just in the educational setting, but in taking care of your body,” says Kelli Tuttle, the head physical education teacher in Sioux City (Iowa) Community School District, which implemented a week-long walking school bus program for the first time in early May. Students met at a designated start point, and walked to school together with adult volunteers. “Educating the whole child means they need to have those physical skills as well, and it definitely has an impact on learning and development,” Tuttle says.

The district received a state Department of Public Health grant of $2,425 per school, to go toward promotional signs and permission slips, background checks for volunteers who walk the route, and incentives for students who choose to walk, such as water bottles and stickers.

Parents who usually drive their children to school could drop them off in a designated point about two miles from school to join in the walk. Students who live more than two miles away from school and take the bus were not affected, but could join in the walk if parents chose to drop them off. “It’s not only for physical activity, but social interaction for kids and parents in the neighborhood,” Tuttle says. She said parents connected and planned to create walking groups for their kids after the weeklong event was done.

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