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The students, teachers and families of Birdsboro Elementary Center – and some dignitaries – marked International Walk to School Day last Wednesday by donning specially made t-shirts and walking from Cocalico Road and Jefferson Street to the school on West Second Street. Along the way, more students joined the group, and at Birdsboro Union firehouse, a group of students that normally rides the bus was waiting to join the crowd of walkers.
The group easily topped 100 participants and stretched across several blocks as they made the trip to school. Some carried cutouts of school buses; others carried signs saying it was “cool to walk to school.” Birdsboro Mayor Robert Myers and state Senator Judith Schwank joined the walk, along with the Daniel Boone mascot. There were even a couple of people who rode their bikes.
This was the third year BEC has participated in International Walk to School Day, and it was by far the biggest turnout.
Once the group arrived at BEC, Myers and Schwank said a few words about walking to school. Myers said he used to walk to school, but “it was all up hill, and the snow came to here .” He added that he still walks to work every day. Myers said he came with a list of why walking is good, but that he wanted to hear the student’s reasons. Hands flew into the air as students scrambled to answer.
“We get fresh air,” “It’s good exercise,” “It keeps us healthy,” “We get to talk to our friends,” “We get to see nature,” the students answered.
“That’s amazing, those are exactly the same things I had on my list,” Myers told the students.
“What a great way to start the day,” Schwank said. “I’m amazed at the turnout and compliment the parents and students who decided to try this today.”
Schwank told the students that walking in the morning helps get them ready to go to school and learn.
“Are you energized?” she asked the students, who responded with cheers. “Show your teachers how ready you are to learn today.”
BEC Principal Mary Beth Kiesel said the school received a Safe Routes to School grant of about $8,000, which helps them promote walking and wellness at the school with a focus on wellness. In addition to participating in Walk to School Day, Kiesel said the students are taking part in a walking contest for the next month.
“We got the students pedometers, and they are recording how much they walk at home for the next month,” she said. “Then we’ll the students entered into a contest.” Among the prizes: two new bikes as well as gift certificates.
Walk Bike Berks president Nancy Kauffman added that the walking contest even goes a little bit further – with a weekly classroom challenge. The classroom that takes the most steps each week will get a trophy that will rotate around the school.
“I am absolutely thrilled. There were so many kids, it was wonderful, phenomenal,” Kauffman said of the participation level.
Kiesel said in addition to encouraging walking, the school is also encouraging students to bike to school. BEC will be installing a bike rack, “so the students have a place to lock up their bikes during the day,” she said.
Myers said the experience of walking with the students is “fabulous.” He said the program continues to grow each year.
“It is just great to see them as they are walking. Birdsboro has great sidewalks and lots of friendly neighbors. It’s a very walkable town,” he added.
Walk to School Day is a global event that involves communities from more than 40 countries walking and biking to school on the same day. Organized by the Partnership for a Walkable America, Walk to School Day in the U.S. began in 1997 as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. In 2000, the event became international.