Local School Wellness Policies:
Walking Their Way to Wellness
September 27, 2006 -- In compliance with a federal mandate to establish local school wellness policies that examine foods available on campus, nutrition education and physical activity, school districts across the country are incorporating physical activity into the school day through a variety of means. These include mandatory recess periods, “movement breaks” during the school day, and intramural sports expansion. Another idea that is catching on in numerous communities hearkens back to "olden days": walking to school.
A number of school districts are using their local school wellness policies to encourage students to walk to school. Soliciting community involvement to establish a safe environment for this activity is critical. One of the goals of the Atchison County (Kansas) Community Schools wellness policy is to have “schools work with the community to create ways for students to walk or bike safely to and from school when feasible.” Other school districts are implementing Safe Routes to School programs; these include the Manchester Public School District in Connecticut, Somerville School District in Massachusetts, and the Washington County School District in Utah. In each of these cases, the school districts ask for support from the local community agencies, such as the police and public works departments to help establish and maintain safe walking and biking routes for students.
Schools are not only encouraging students to walk to school, many are also urging students to walk at school. At one Evansville, Indiana, middle school, a walking club is available for students to walk in the mornings, before classes start. Nearly 200 students participate in the morning walking club and a lunchtime club has been established at the request of students unable to participate in the morning.
Some schools have turned walking into a school-wide activity. At one Dearborn, Michigan, school, the students are walking “across” a selected state, tracking their local miles until they have amassed enough to represent their goal. The entire school community, including teachers and the principal, are participating in this activity.
Educators have observed that walking has many advantages for the school community. According to Mary Schweizer, principal of Park Plaza Middle School (Evansville, Indiana), discipline had greatly improved among students who participate in the walking clubs. In addition, students were, by far, more awake and ready to focus on class time, says Schweizer, adding that there has been a 56% increase in school breakfast program participation. For students who walk either to or at school, it’s one step at a time on their way to wellness.