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Students Walk the Walk on Wednesday

Whether walking or riding through rain or sleet, the school children of Healdsburg are avid participants in this international day of healthy transportation

If there seem to be more than the usual number of school-age pedestrians out tomorrow -- perhaps under umbrellas -- there's a very good reason.

Healdsburg’s city schools, both public and private, are encouraging children to walk or ride a bike to school on Wednesday as part of the local effort to support International Walk to School Day, this year marked for Oct. 5.

As the name says, the annual ambulatory endeavor takes place not only in Healdsburg but internationally, having started in Great Britain in 1994.The program spread to the U.S. in 1997 when Chicago stepped up. Los Angeles followed, then other communities in the U.S. as well as Canada.

By 2000, the first International Walk to School Day was declared, and now 40 countries are listed on the movement’s website. Its annual growth in numbers and nations shows that this program has legs.

The nine schools officially participating in what is locally called "Walk and Roll to School Day" have students ranging in age from 4 up -- from pre-schools to  which announces the event on their public bulletin board.

That should mean an extra large number of pedestrians at crosswalks and sidewalks near schools tomorrow. Drivers are advised to be extra-attentive to the presence of walkers, bicyclists and even skateboarders en route to their classes.

“To the best of my memory, about four years ago, a parent, Lissa Beard, sent out an e-mail to all the sites asking if anyone was interested in participating,” said Kathy Alexander, a teacher at . “We were!”

Beard herself, mother of two children at Healdsburg High, is modest about her role in starting the recognition in Healdsburg, but absolutely committed to it.

“I tried to push the schools to participate,” she said, “but now they’re doing it pretty much on their own.”

Her two children, , 16, and , 14, have been riding bikes to work “since kindergarten,” Beard said.

“They drag their feet when the weather’s bad, but at the end of the day it’s worth it," she said. “If the kids have to make 100 small decisions before they get to school, they’re ready to learn.”

The Beards live about two miles from the high school.

Aside from the high school and junior high, the participating schools include:

While some schoolchildren do walk to school, ride their bikes or even skateboards to school every day, many others are often shuttled to school in parent's cars. Many hope the Walk and Roll to School Day in October sets the stage for better participation on through the school year. 

“At HJH we use this to kick off our ‘Walk on Wednesday’,” said Alexander. “Every first Wednesday of the month we ask students to walk, roll or car pool, to encourage less car use and more active students.”

Overall, the response has been excellent. “Last year about 80% of the elementary students participated,” said Alexander, “while we had about a 90% participation rate at the Junior High.”

And if it rains? “Rain or shine, it’s an international day,” said Beard. “They can use umbrellas or dress appropriately.”

If one day is not enough exercise for you or your children, according to the Walk to School website, October is International Walk to School Month. It’s just getting started.

Walk to School movements not only address the need for young people to be more physically active, they highlights the importance of making streets safe to all pedestrians, young and old, and benefits the environment by reducing the amount of pollutants by automobiles in emissions, smells, noise, and physical impact.

Sound like good arguments for walking, period. See you on the sidewalks.

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