Walking a lap through the parking lot of Wapakoneta Elementary School, students were joined Thursday by cheerleaders, local mascots and city and police officials as they celebrated International Walk to School Day.
The event focused on how to use sidewalks safely and stay healthy.
Students and staff wore crazy socks and tennis shoes for a lap around the school parking lot before listening to speakers in the Wapakoneta Performing Arts Center talk to them about the importance of being active, of which walking is an integral part. They took home with them goody bags full of healthy donations from the community, including a water bottle, coupon for apple dippers from McDonald’s, afirst aid kit and a Wapakoneta Family YMCA pass.
Approximately 20 percent of the district’s student body are considered walkers by the transportation office. Of Wapakoneta Elementary School’s 950 students from preschool through fourth-grade, approximately 25 walk home from school each afternoon.
The third year for the city to recognize International Walk to School Day with a proclamation by Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz, Wapakoneta Engineering Department Superintendent Mary Ruck said they do it for the awareness to promote safe routes to school.
“It’s a simple thing they can do, to walk for their health, exercise and be out and about,” Ruck said of a healthy habit it is important to start young.
With the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) awarding the city $1.1 million to improve safe routes to school with sidewalks, signage and infrastructure, she said it is a win-win for everybody.
“They obviously see merit in it and we see merit in it,” Ruck said.
She said efforts being made by students at the school, which also is in the process of developing a walking club and walking trail, is awesome.
Wapakoneta City Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier told students that they want to make Wapakoneta a better place and new sidewalks “make children safe and happy.”
Through his proclamation, Metz said the day is about taking steps to make pedestrian safety a priority in the city and emphasized the importance physical education plays in lowering obesity and diabetes rates which continue to climb.
He said driving children to and from school causes traffic congestion and air pollution, but they must be aware of the dangers children face when they walk to school each day, too.
“Community leaders are making changes so children can safely walk or bike to school,” Metz said. “Declaring today, International Walk to School Day in Wapakoneta, Ohio, I encourage everyone to consider the safety and health of our children.”
Speakers talked to students about not thinking about the activity as exercise, but having fun, and getting outside and moving their whole bodies, rather than just their thumbs playing video games.
Along with walking comes the responsibility to know the rules for safely walking on sidewalks along roads and crossing streets.
“We get more sidewalks all the time,” Wapakoneta police officer Lt. Jeff Eisert said. “I hope everyone uses them.”
Schools from around the world celebrated International Walk to School Day in similar ways Thursday.
In 2012, the day was celebrated at more than 4,200 events across the United States, as well as events in 40 countries around the world.
The day is meant to raise awareness for the need to create safer routes for walking and bicycling and to emphasize the importance of issues such as increasing physical activity among children, pedestrian safety, traffic congestion and concern for the environment.
Walk to School Day was established in 1997 by the Partnership for a Walkable America. Canada and Great Britain already had walk to school programs in place. In 2000, the three countries joined together to create International Walk to School Day.
Partnering with Wapakoneta City Schools to bring the day to students were the Grandlake Health Systems/Wapakoneta Primary Care, Wapakoneta YMCA, Finkelmeier Insurance, McDonald’s, Walmart, the City of Wapakoneta and the Wapakoneta Police Department. Dare Dog and Safety Pup, as well as the Wapakoneta Redskins cheerleaders, also made appearances.