Q&A With: Walk to School Day Coordinators

What Makes Walk to School Day Work?

For this “Q&A With” interview, we spoke with two event organizers about what worked for them in their communities as they organized 2011 Walk to School Day (WTSD).

Michele Leach is a parent who calls herself an “organizer and participant” for the Walk to School program in her neighborhood, Hazel Dell Woods of Noblesville, Ind. This year, more than 30 Hazel Dell Elementary School students in the neighborhood joined parents, grandparents, younger siblings and neighbors for a total of more than 60 participants in Walk to School Day. In addition, the Mayor, a local police officer, and the city's parks directors walked to school with the students.

Natalie Tauzin focuses on physical activity and nutrition in her position as a Health Program Specialist for the Spokane Regional Health District in the state of Washington.  “Otis Orchards Elementary School is located in Spokane County on the east side of Washington State near the Idaho border. One of my roles is to provide technical assistance to community leaders to promote physical activity for school age children through programs like Safe Routes to School.” This year 104 walkers and bicyclists participated in Walk to School Day at Otis Orchards Elementary School.

Q: Is your WTSD event part of a larger SRTS program?

A / Natalie: “Otis Orchard Elementary has revised its walk routes based on a community walk audit of school routes conducted last fall. These routes are now posted on the school’s website and a new crossing guard program has been developed to address one of the key safety concerns identified in the walk audit.  The parent student handbook promotes walking as a healthy option.  The Otis Orchards branch of the Spokane Community Oriented Policing Effort (SCOPE) monitors motor vehicle safety with a speed read out sign that they set up along the school speed zone.  Their involvement in this school keeps safety a priority for this community.”

A / Michele: “Not at this time.”

Q: What was the primary reason your community started a SRTS program/WTSD event?

A / Natalie: “For the safety of the children.  Otis Orchard is a rural community with a rural highway running in front of the school.  Most walks to school are without sidewalks and crossing the main street can be hazardous if children are not careful.  One of the main priorities for the school is to get a flashing beacon to announce the school’s speed zone.”

A / Michele: “I began researching the health situation of our children and discovered the significant impact our walking and biking could have in teaching them healthy long term lifestyle habits.  In researching, I also discovered the SRTS and WTSD [programs] and knew we had to be involved.  We are promoting the implementation of healthy lifestyle habits in a fun and positive way.”

Q: How did you build community support for your effort?

A / Natalie: “Parents and students volunteered for the walk audits, SCOPE continues to do speed patrols to protect the children. Parents have participated in informally organized walking school buses, surveys and walk to school days.”

A / Michele: “We shared by word of mouth, Facebook, e-mail and a neighborhood website.”

Q: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

A / Natalie: “Cold weather interfering with kids walking to school and keeping parents involved in promoting and participating in safe routes.”

A / Michele: “The biggest challenge is getting people to participate who are not regular walkers.  A bus is provided for students; however, we are within walking distance of the school.  It takes a mind-shift to recognize the significance of walking to school and the impact that time can have on our children, both physically and emotionally.”

Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

A / Natalie: “Programs like SRTS need grassroots support to be successful. Parent surveys can help inform some of the barriers related to walk to school.”

A / Michele: “My favorite quote, ‘The biggest mistake ever made is doing nothing because you could only do a little.’  We are the first neighborhood in our city to ever participate in WTSD and to pursue SRTS involvement.  I was not sure how many people would participate.  Not only did we have great involvement, but the city, parks, and schools are also looking at how we can promote walking in the future.”

Thanks again to Michele Leach and Natalie Tauzin. Here’s to learning from different approaches!