Walking to school safely as well as getting some physical activity each day were lessons Wapakoneta Elementary School students took time out to learn Monday morning as they participated in the International Walk to School Day.
The school’s 875 kindergarten through fourth-grade students all walked a lap before heading to the Wapakoneta Performing Arts Center for a brief presentation on the importance of being safe when walking as well as getting some kind of physical activity each day.
“It’s a good way to reach students,” Wapakoneta Elementary School Principal Mark Selvaggio said. “It’s a way to promote kids getting out and exercising, having fun and learning the safety rules when walking.”
Selvaggio said approximately 25 percent of the school’s students walk to school.
Walking was promoted as a great way to get exercise and have fun as well as to get from one place to another, but it needs to be done safely, organizers reminded students.
In honor of the day, students wore their Wapakoneta Elementary School T-shirts, crazy socks and tennis shoes. Helping them to celebrate were the Wapakoneta Redskins cheerleaders, Ronald McDonald, and Safety Pup, who joined city leaders in recognizing the importance of the day and lead students in a safe walk around the bus parking lot.
Wapakoneta City Council Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr., who chairs the Health and Safety Committee, told children they want them to be healthy and safe.
Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz read a proclamation marking the special event and asking that an initiative be taken to develop safe routes to school and improve pedestrian safety.
The proclamation also addressed the need for physical fitness and how walking provides an opportunity to add that into the daily routine. In addition to regular walking decreasing the likelihood of health problems in children, it also reduces air pollution, Metz said.
“Children, parents and community leaders are joining together to walk to school for International Walk to School Day and to make changes,” Metz said.
“We want children to be safe crossing the street, walking to school,” Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock said. “We are concerned about everybody’s safety.”
He advised children to walk on a sidewalk when available and if there isn’t one, to walk on the street as close to the curb as possible and against the flow of traffic. Where crosswalks are available, use them.
“Look both ways and then look again,” Hunlock said.
He reminded children not to dart out in front of traffic and to make sure traffic sees them and is stopping before crossing.
“Stay safe,” the police chief said.
Finkelmeier said bike riders also are able to stay safe by using sidewalks thanks to a recently changed law.
He said the city was involved in the event as part of being awarded $435,000 in Safe Routes to Schools grant money this year to install sidewalks and make other safety improvements.
Each student took home a goodie bag which included a pass to the Wapakoneta Family YMCA, a water bottle, apple dippers, and other items donated by local businesses in honor of the event.
The United States has been celebrating Walk to School Day since 1997 with the event reaching a record high in 2010 with more than 3,500 registered events, including some in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
The event became the International Walk to School Day in 2000, when Canada and the United Kingdom joined in the celebration.