With more and more kids wanting to spend their free time playing with their smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices, getting them to engage in daily exercise as well as with each other is probably one of the biggest chores parents face.
That is where the Safe Routes To School program comes in.
The Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program was created to encourage kids to walk or bike their way to school as a way to help them maintain a daily exercise regimen.
However, there are other benefits too. More active children making their way to school means less cars on the road, creating safer, cleaner communities.
According to its website, the SRTS says that approximately 30 percent of American children are overweight or obese, a number that is backed by the American Heart Association.
In addition, the SRTS website also states that less than 15 percent of American children get the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity.
Jim Shanman, coordinator of the SRTS program, said that the kids who participate get much more out of the program than just exercise.
“Kids learn community awareness, traffic awareness and how to negotiate streets safely,” Shanman said. “They learn responsibility and time management. These are lifelong lessons that people take for granted but when they get to college, believe it or not, kids don’t know that. Twenty-five percent of kids are socially dysfunctional because they cant even find their way around campus because they’ve spent so much time in the backseat of their parent’s cars.”
Some of the benefits for children who participate in the SRTS program are the development of decision-making skills, an increase in responsibility, and an increase in community awareness.
In addition, parents benefit by being able to spend a several car-free moments discussing the concepts of safety, responsibility, and community with their child and teach them important lessons such as stopping at curbs, crossing at corners, looking in all directions, being respectful to neighbors, and what to do in an emergency.
So how does the program work? Shanman says that the elementary students usually begin at a common local meetup site with a parent or other adult volunteer. Students from Linwood Howe meet every Friday morning at Carlson Park then walk along Braddock Drive until they arrive at the front of the school. Usually the morning group starts with around 15 students with additional students joining the walk as the group passes by each block on the way to school. By the time the group reaches the school, more than 50 students have joined and are walking to school together.
For the middle school students, they usually walk to school without parental or adult guidance. Shanman said that by the time students reach middle school age they are usually very aware of their surroundings and know what things to avoid to steer clear of danger.
“When you’re in the car you don’t see the cool house or where the barking dog is, where the friendly neighbors are, where the safe store is but when you do walk, you pick up on all of that stuff,” Shanman said.
Walking or biking to school can be easier for some families than it is for others so the SRTS program does not hold families to engage in walking or biking every day as other commitments and obligations sometimes have to take priority.
However, those pressed for time are encouraged to take the 3 Block Challenge. This involves parents parking three blocks from their child’s school and then walking with their child to the campus. This allows parents to help reduce the traffic and pollution around the schools without the burden of a daily commitment.
Once students reach their destination, they present barcodes which are scanned into a database which lets Shanman know how many kids walked or biked to school that day.
“We get a pretty accurate number from this as to how many from each school participated as well as which class had the most walkers,” Shanman said.
Shanman said the scanned barcodes also provide information such as how many calories were burned and how many miles were walked. Middle school students are tracked based on student ID cards which are scanned.
Shanman said that he will begin promoting the SRTS program with monthly activities at the various schools throughout the Culver City School District.
This month Shanman will distribute coloring pages to the elementary students that depict children walking or riding their bikes to school.
Shanman hopes the pages will spark conversations between parents and their children about the importance of exercising and keeping the environment free of pollution.
Shanman plans to follow this up with an SRTS participation challenge contest in February, an art exhibit contest in March and a classroom challenge in April with prizes going to the class with the most amount of walkers or bikers that month. The month of May will include classes for students on basic bicycle safety and repair.
For more information on the Safe Routes To School program, call 310-204-4346 or visit their website at www.ccwalkandroll.com.