Many people believe in the philosophy of “baby steps” – if you challenge yourself to improve a little at a time, these small changes eventually build up to a great transformation.
The SRTS program at A.C. Whelan Elementary School in Revere, Mass., illustrates how the baby steps approach can bring great success to a SRTS program. After establishing a popular monthly Walk to School Day event for two semesters, - the school’s PTA representatives and SRTS event coordinators didn’t stop there. They went on to expand their program into a weekly Walking School Bus program.
When awarded a $1,000 mini-grant from the National Center, the program set out to accomplish three goals: to increase student walking rates, to decrease local vehicle traffic, and to increase parent involvement. Coordinators carefully planned activities, including mapping routes, talking with parents and teachers, and using National Center resources such as the Student Travel Tally to prepare for the expanded program.
In order to encourage participation, the school promoted walker registration and held a “Golden Shoe Contest,” which awarded a golden shoe trophy to the classroom with the highest participation rate. The prize enticed students to promote the Walking Wednesdays program among their friends and classmates.
“We recommend that programs invite families, not just students, to walk,” said Julie DeMauro, the president of the A.C. Whelan Elementary PTA and lead organizer of Walking Wednesdays. “It’s important to get everybody on board, and to make sure that the parents feel that their children are safe. However, it’s really the students driving the change. They love the social aspect of walking with their friends and being almost on their own. I don’t think they even realize that they’re exercising!”
The school observed a 51-percent increase in student walking rates during the course of the Walking Wednesdays program, and a 17-percent reduction in drop-off traffic. Moving forward, the school is expanding its Walking School Bus program this spring to include two new routes, which should encourage involvement in areas that previously had a lower participation. During the winter months, while the walking program is on hiatus, the school’s physical education department is holding bi-weekly workout sessions before school to encourage students to keep exercising. The workout program’s participation rate is roughly the same as for Walking Wednesdays.
“I think the Walking Wednesdays program has helped the students a lot – it’s given them a bit more breathing room,” said DeMauro. “Everything is just so rushed in the morning – they get up, they get ready for school, and they are there most of the day. This gives them a chance to slow down a bit in the morning, increase their exercise and socialize with their friends. For the school community as a whole, the students are seeing their teachers and principal on a different level when they participate in the walking program, which is a nice thing to see. And the ability for parents to talk with other parents and teachers along the route has only made the community stronger.”