Wapakoneta Elementary School students walk during an international event in 2011.
This Wednesday Wapakoneta City School students will do something they do every day — walk. Only this time, they will be doing it with students from around the world.
More than 600 Wapakoneta Middle School students are expected to celebrate International Walk to School Day, with special activities centered around walking and walking safety at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Harmon Field.
“I think it is a great opportunity for our community to become aware about the benefits that walking has on our health and to learn more about safety when walking — those are the two big components of this,” said Wapakoneta Engineering Department Superintendent Mary Ruck, who is one of the organizers of the event. “I think it is a great opportunity for us to make an impact and it is a fun day for the kids. They are learning things and they don’t realize they are learning them because they are having fun.”
The event, which is slated to being at 1 p.m. Wednesday, includes activities associated with walking as they traverse the track at Harmon Field, home of the Wapakoneta Redskins. Speakers include Dr. Christopher Meyers, of Grand Lake Health Systems-Wapakoneta Primary Care, Thomas Finkelmeier Jr., of Finkelmeier Insurance, Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz and members of the Wapakoneta Police Department. Making a special appearance will be dancers from the M Dance Center, Ronald McDonald and Safety Pup.
Ruck explained the International Walk to School Day event focuses on helping children and adults to discuss and to create safer routes for walking and bicycling to and from school. Specific events focus on walking and bicycling as ways to increase children’s physical activity while also discussing issues such as pedestrian safety, traffic congestion and the environment.
Ruck said residents should be aware of hedges that block views near corners and walkers should be aware of their path to school that pass places where abductors could hide. They also teach students safe ways to cross streets.
She also stressed the event can help build connections between families, schools and the community.
In Wapakoneta, the Safe Routes to Schools Committee, which is comprised of members of the city of Wapakoneta, the Wapakoneta City Schools, Wapakoneta Family YMCA and Dr. Meyers.
The city has been awarded nearly $1 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation through the Safe Routes to Schools program. The program provides funds for communities to install sidewalks from schools to area neighborhoods to ensure children have a safe place to walk and are not walking in the street.
Ruck said the event started in England in 1994 in Hertfordshire County, Great Britain. The program grew over the next couple of years and in 1997, the United States, through the Partnership for a Walkable America, launches its first walk in Chicago. Los Angeles holds a walk later in the year.
In 2011, International Walk to School Day was celebrated with more than 4,000 scheduled events at schools throughout the United States and by children and adults in 42 countries throughout the world.
The city of Wapakoneta first participated in 2011 with an event at Wapakoneta Elementary School.
“I think it is really neat that across Ohio, the nation and throughout the world that we are able to do the same activity, in this case walking, all on the same day and we are all trying to achieve the same goal,” Ruck said. “I think that is great.”