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The lost art of walking to school

Go to our education page and check out Freddy Kunkle's great "walking school bus" story about Fairfax County's efforts to save money and get more students to walk or bike to school. He teases grandparents who remember long wintry walks to get their education, but that doesn't include me. The elementary school was a block away, the middle school a half-block and the high school two blocks, all in snow-free California.
I don't think Fairfax is going to be successful in its effort to increase walking, even if it reduces bus service. American parents will drive the kid rather than worry. For a while I lived in probably the safest village in America, Scarsdale, NY. One day, while driving my fourth-grader to school, I saw a rare thing, a 9-year-old riding his bike, his books in the front basket. Then I noticed, right behind him, his mother driving the family Mercedes, making sure he got to school safely. We worry too much, maybe, but if you read the paper, or this Web site, it is hard not to.

By Jay Mathews  | November 18, 2009; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Fairfax County school bus cut, school budget problems, school safety, walking to school  
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But wait! To walk to school a kid has to go to a neighborhood school, and in urban areas, they are so despised and out of fashion.

I thought the theme of the day was for parents to either go private, or to get mixed up with all the school "choices" and end up sending their kids to that boutique charter across town, which is lucky enough to have been given tidy chunks of money from the venture philanthropists like Fisher, Dell, Broad, and others with foundations who would NEVER consider providing that type of support to any of the local traditional public schools.

For instance, everyday on my very short block here in Oakland, six families drive their nine kids to five different elementary schools. Even though the local elementary school isn't all that "bad," generation after generation of the middle-class parents living in this neighborhood have shunned it for years. They reject it without bothering to learn anything about it. I've been around long enough to know that if the people in the neighborhood actually used the local public school and actively supported it, it would become the elementary school of their dreams.

It's too bad. All these kids would have a blast walking to and fro school. Another huge benefit is that they would meet other kids and potential playmates who live nearby.

Posted by: pondoora | November 18, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

The kids walk with parents. It's not like they are out there on their own. It's better for their health, and better for the environment. I wish the Post story had added these points to the story (not just that it would save money on busing.)

Posted by: chiquita2 | November 18, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I know quite a few kids in my neighborhood who would love to ride their bikes to school, but the local elementary school has no bike rack. When a group of parents approached the principal for permission to install one (that they were planning to pay for themselves!) permission was denied. Why? The school did not want to be held responsible for the bikes on
school property while the kids were in class. Typical Fairfax County.

Posted by: momof3g | November 18, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Here on Long Island in our school district, I've noticed a number of middle school students riding their bikes to school. Sadly, a number of them were not wearing helmets. Since I served on both the Health and Safety committee, as well as the district's Transportation committee, I asked that the principal follow up with parents and NOT permit children on the school's campus with their bicycles UNLESS they were wearing their helmets.

My youngest son LOVED riding his bike to middle school. By bus it was a 30 minute ride through the community, whereas, by bicycle it took all of 10 minutes to get to school. He ALWAYS wore his helmet. Today, at 21, and a licensed driver, he still prefers riding his bicycle locally.

Posted by: 1voraciousreader | November 23, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

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