8 Tips to Start a Successful Walk to School Day in Your Neighborhood

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

Do your kids walk to school? Would you like them to?
International Walk to School Day takes place annually on the first Wednesday in October. In Traverse City, organizers are hopeful that more than 1,000 kids will commit to adding activity to their commute the morning of Oct. 4.
This is the community’s third year participating, with about 500 kids taking part in 2015 and more than 800 last year. Ty Schmidt, executive director of Norte, a youth cycling group, has taken the lead. Although he’s passionate about bikes, encouraging activity of any form is a powerful way to reinforce the importance of safe routes to school, whether via walking or biking.
“I really think these encouragement programs are important to change culture,” he said.
So how can your school get in on the Walk to School Day fun? Schmidt has eight tips he feels are vital to successfully grow the program.
“There’s nothing we’ve done here that can’t be replicated,” he said.
  1. Get a toolkit. Schmidt said your first stop should be to Safe Routes Michigan’s website. Here you’ll find a Walk to School Day toolkit, which includes everything you’ll need including permission slips, flyers and planning tips.
  1. Get school leadership involved. It’s a big deal for kids to walk to school with their principal. Getting him or her involved up front means they’ll be a champion leading up to the event and on the big day, ensuring its success.
  1. Make it a community effort. Invite local police and fire personnel, elected officials and neighborhood association leaders to take part to make the day a true community event.
  1. Partner with local businesses. In Traverse City, Oryana Natural Foods Market provides snacks to walkers on their path. Additionally, TBA Credit Union, the Traverse City Track Club and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provide financial support. Schmidt recommends thinking of the businesses in your community that value health and wellness and pitching them on supporting the event as a way to inspire the broader community to move. “It’s a pretty easy sell,” he said. “The business sector gets that and we’ve had all kinds of support.”
  1. Make it inclusive. Schmidt said it’s important to make sure everyone’s unique needs are considered so that nobody has an excuse not to walk. Setting accessible routes for kids with disabilities is a key part of Traverse City’s program. Park and stroll locations are set up for kids who live too far away to walk so they can still take part and students can still get credit for walking if they make at least a five-minute trek to their bus stop. Walking school buses led by parents ensure younger children can walk to school safely, even if their parents can’t go with them.
  1. Start a friendly competition. The school with the highest percentage of walkers gets a special treat, which Schmidt said definitely helps boost numbers. “Who doesn’t like beating other schools,” he asked.
  1. Make the reward an experience. Instead of trinkets that will likely be discarded or forgotten, the winning school’s students are rewarded with an experience. Last year’s winners went on a field trip to the Bijou by the Bay Theater for a movie and popcorn treat. And yes, they walked there.
  1. Dream big. Even though Walk to School Day is a one-day event, the ultimate goal is to use it as a launch pad to encourage everyone to embark on a more active lifestyle. Schmidt said Norte sets up park and stroll locations every Friday so families can walk together and connect without screens at least once a week. “We really want to make every day walk to school day,” he said.
Does your school participate in Walk to School Day? Share your tips for a successful event in the comments.
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Photo credit (feature image): Elizabeth
All other photos courtesy of Norte

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