A father of three students was walking his children to a Chula Vista school when he came across a penguin mascot near the campus. It’s not every day you encounter a penguin on the way to school. The kids were excited. Then, the penguin handed them wristbands that said, It’s Cool 2 Walk to School.
And a great way to start the day, say school officials, who aim to increase the number of
families involved in walking and biking to and from school. Once on campus, a parent volunteer scanned a card with a barcode that the students each carried. The barcode tracks physical activity, which helps in the awarding of participation incentives.
“Kids know that we are scanning on Wednesdays, and students tell their parents it is Walk to School Wednesdays,” said Norma Avila and Karina Rodriguez, parents at J. Calvin Lauderbach Elementary.
Families at Hazel Goes Cook, Juarez-Lincoln, Karl H. Kellogg, and Lauderbach schools are part of a broad District initiative aptly named It’s Cool 2 Walk to School. The effort is the District’s grant-funded Safe Routes to School program, which promotes active modes of “non-vehicle” transportation in disadvantaged communities.
“Traffic is much better during walk/bike to school days,” said Rosita Haro, a parent at Juarez Lincoln Elementary.
Altogether, It’s Cool to Walk to School includes 27 CVESD schools, including the four target schools that receive increased focus. As part of the grant, the District works with public and nonprofit partners to plan, design and implement efforts to improve the areas surrounding elementary schools. This collaboration is key to make walking and biking to school a safe mode of travel, said Melissa Minas, CVESD program manager.
“Communities feel empowered to improve the environment for walking and biking in their communities, and also develop lines of communication with our local agencies to implement efforts to support safer surroundings and adopt healthier lifestyles,” Minas said. “When parents walk their children to school, it really increases the communication and bond that they have with their children. It also builds relationships with their neighbors and school community.”
Identifying locations for pedestrian safety improvements helps improve safety and mobility for all students. Each of the participating schools has a task force of parents, teachers and administrators who help ensure the success of the program. The schools regularly hold Walk to School events, and have received cones, bright vests and safety equipment to assist in activities. It’s Cool to Walk to School aligns with other District health and wellness initiatives, officials said.
“The schools’ administrative support has been key to the implementation of this program at each school, but parent volunteers have been the main factor to the success of program,” said Juan Antonio Ramirez, Senior Project Coordinator at Circulate San Diego.
As part of the District’s collaboration with the City of Chula Vista, the city developed a pedestrian master plan and sought funds to systematically improve the walking environment near all schools. Walk audits and the creation of deficiency maps and infrastructure improvement plans were delivered for six CVESD schools, and used to update the top 21 schools that were prioritized by the City of Chula Vista in its 2009 Pedestrian Master Plan.
“More parents and children walking to and from school means that they are more physically active,” said Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D. “There are environmental benefits as well because of the reduced traffic congestion.”