Readers — I’m all for walking to school but I never expected such a beautiful blog post about it. Thank you, Massachusetts mom o’ two, Karen Allendoerfer!
WHERE WALKING GETS YOU by Karen Allendoerfer
I am the PTO Walk-to-School Coordinator for my kids’ elementary school. I already have 2 kids, a full-time job, and a serious violin hobby, so I wasn’t exactly looking for another thing to put on my plate. But I started walking my daughter to school after the neighborhood carpool stopped working for me. I was done with frantically strapping kids 3 abreast into carseats, done with waiting in the line of cars in front of the school at drop-off, and done with worrying about being late.
It was only really then that I remembered that as a child in the 1970’s, I had walked to elementary school in a suburb of. It was about a three quarters of a mile away, around one big corner and across one big street. I walked with my best friend, who lived next door. This being Buffalo, we walked in all kinds of weather. The crossing guards used to joke with us. “It’s cold out here! Where are your hats, ladies?” “We hate hats!” we’d giggle as we crossed the street.
Here in the Boston suburbs in the new millennium, it’s really not that different. It’s still a little under a mile to school, my kids still have neighbors to walk with, and there’s still snow in the winter. But everything else seemed to have changed. According to the International Walk to School website, 42% of students walked or bicycled to school
in 1969, compared with 16% in 2001. I also found out that grassroots programs have started to spring up around the world. A few schools in Hertfordshire, Great Britain, are now being credited with starting Walk-to-School Day in 1994. Closer to home, I found that the town just to the north of where I live, MA, was selected in 2001
to be one of two cities in the country to participate in a Safe Routes to School pilot . After the first year of the program, there was a significant increase in the number of children walking to and from the three pilot schools: 213 new walking trips a day!
I thought that if Arlington could do it, so could we.
We started small. The first year we celebrated International Walk-to-School day in the fall on the first Wednesday in October. The second year we added a spring day, to get people back into it after the long winter. We had the idea that we would celebrate the beginning of spring, at the vernal equinox. We were snowed out, and since then have joined
Massachusetts’ more prudent walk-to-school day in May. The kids earn prizes if they walk, bike, carpool, or ride the bus 20 times. And, on the walk-to-school days, we have celebrity walkers meeting the kids at different street corners and walking them to school. Well, local celebrities. The town selectmen and our state representative have joined us, along with an increasing number of enthusiastic teachers.
One of the selectmen asked me, “Why do we need an event like this?” and while I was a little taken aback, I think he has a point. The event is fun, crowded, with a lot of people there. But really, the best walk-to-school times are still the ones when you get to know your neighborhood because you walk it: whose dog — or guinea pig — is outside in the morning, where that stream in the back of your house actually comes out, who is repairing their driveway, and which trees lose their leaves first in the fall.
Today is International Walk to School Day. Walk safely.
–Karen Allendoerfer is a resident of Belmont MA, and the mother a 1st grader and a 5th grader who attend Belmont public schools.