A Longer Walk to School
Spiraling fuel costs have made running school buses a budget-busting proposition. So last night the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) board voted to give Superintendent Jerry D. Weast leeway to increase the distances from school beyond which bus service is provided -- in effect, making more kids walk to school.
Right now, elementary-school kids living within a mile of school don't have bus service; for middle-schoolers, it's 1.5 miles, and high school students living 2 miles from school or closer have to get there on their own. There's no telling yet how those guidelines might change, if at all; in any case, no changes are planned for the coming school year.
Should kids living farther from school be asked to walk, some parents are sure to squawk. And with good reason, in many cases: as acting MCPS public information officer Chris Cram explains, a lot of safety issues, from sidewalk maintenance to lighting, need to be addressed. He says parents would be involved every step of the way.
On the other hand, there's a move afoot to get more kids walking (and biking) to school to improve fitness and give them a healthy start to the school day. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sponsors a program designed to help communities organize to make walking to school more feasible. According to the program's Web site, only 16 percent of kids walked to school in 2001; that number's down from 42 percent in 1969. The site addresses the major barriers -- distance to school, traffic dangers, adverse weather, fear of crimes against children and crime in the neighborhood -- that make parents balk at having their kids get themselves to school. And it offers community-based suggestions for remedying those problems.
I remember trudging to the now-defunct Robert E. Peary High School on some mighty cold and dark mornings; it wasn't quite fun, but I think it built character. On the other hand, I loved walking around the corner from my house to Rock Creek Valley Elementary School, and, by the time I was in junior high, I liked the challenge posed by the couple of big hills on my route to school. And today I still love to walk, though my companions often accuse me of going too fast.
I wonder, though, what the response might be today if more kids were asked to walk. I have a hunch that whatever fuel savings the county might realize would be offset by an increased number of parents driving their kids to school.
I now happen to live on a rural highway, with no sidewalks, so there's no walking to school for my kids. How about you? Do your kids walk to school? Do you feel safe letting them do so? Do you think they're fitter for it? Or do you feel better giving them a lift?
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